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.


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.


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!

Swan Song 5X11

Swan Song: 5X11

Overview: spoiler-free

Intense, exciting, heartbreaking, unexpected… a great list of adjectives which all describe Swan Song. You bet I cried, but I giggled and bounced in my chair too.

Performance of the night goes to: Robert Carlyle by a slender margin with Jennifer Morrison the obvious runner up. I debated about this a long time. Mr. Carlyle took home the goods for one expression: that of “not one more thing, I just can’t take one more thing.”

Rating: 7/10. While I loved this episode, there were some major flaws, some of which lead deep into the season and frankly into the show as a whole. See below the spoiler line.

Here endeth the spoiler-free overview, below their be dragons.

Scene 1: Storm Tossed

Opening Image: A ship, sails ragged, tossed by an alarming ocean.

Sounds about right for what’s to come.

So now we have met Hook’s father and had a glimpse into his childhood. At first glance, this is a charming father/son scene.

Problem though, if even a three masted ship could survive the storm shown in the opening image, a rowboat could not.

I am not sure how I feel about this repeated theme of parents abandoning their children in Once. Rumple’s father traded him for Neverland and nearly eternal youth. Hook’s father traded him for a row boat. Henry, of course, had neither parent for quite some time but under different circumstances. Both Snow White and Charming traded Emma for the hope of a broken curse in the distant future. Cora tossed out Zelena for a chance at power. Rumple let Baelfire be sucked away by a portal for power and Milah abandoned Baelfire for a pirate and adventure.

The results for these children vary greatly, but why is Once so stuck on this theme? Parenthood is critically important to how new people turn out when they become adults, sure. And being left behind is a common terror of children. The point has been well illustrated so far, the thematic material well served, so why go back to this well again?

Scene 2: The Rumplestiltskin we know and love.

I found this dialogue problematic. Hook didn’t take the dagger from Rumple. The Apprentice did. Then Emma did. Then Emma forced it on Hook. This is where Once runs into timeline trouble. If a fan is coming back after having missed an episode or two, or even just lost concentration at the wrong moment having seen all the episodes, this becomes literal, which it isn’t.

Hook actually means that he ended up with Rumple’s power, regardless of who possesses Excalibur or how he actually acquired it. He’s also be referring to having taken Rumple’s wife, all those years ago.

This scene is actually a bit of thematic exposition and foreshadowing thinly disguised as Hook taunting Rumple. This dialogue feels like as many call backs as possible shoved into too little space just for the purposes of setting up this episode. Most of it didn’t work as well as it could have.

And frankly, it remains to be seen whether Rumple loves his power more than his wife and dead son… I do doubt that that is true.

I absolutely love Rumple’s line though: Power is only as good as the one who wields it. Might be line of the night and that is quality foreshadowing. The rest is essentially a recapitulation and rather transparent at that. All of that said, I still enjoy watching Rumple and Hook go at it any chance I get. They are wonderful together and watching them posture is an exquisite pleasure.

Scene 3: Six, Dopey’s still a tree.

Walk and talk glue scene (a scene with no forward plot motion only providing some key information which holds the story together). I recognize expedience is necessary considering how much has to go into this episode to make it work, but this scene can be boiled down into not much: Emma’s gotta go stop Hook before everything goes to hell. (Forgive me!)

This scene works because the emotional stakes for Emma are so huge. Not the best glue scene we’ve seen this season, but functional.

Scene 4: Old habits die hard.

Zelena warms my heart. Ok, maybe the wrong turn of phrase there, but Rebecca Mader is delightfully unapologetic in her portrayal of Zelena’s delusions of righteousness.

This, could be considered a glue scene, but there is emotional forward momentum (rather than the rehash of the previous two scenes) and we get a little hint at what’s to come.

Also? Poor Regina!!! Robin comes out and says it, “You try and take my daughter from me!” Brrrrr. Left out in the cold again! Robin might not be as ready settle down with Regina as soon as many of us might like. Not from “us,” from “me.”

“What do you mean, we’ll be dead?”

I got awfully close to cheering for Zelena just now…

Scene 5: Behind you!

Teeny scene where the Charmings get gotten.

Scene 6: Dwarves in trouble.


Scene 7: Too late for that.

What did Nimue just do???

Check your wrists.

I could listen to Robert Carlyle all day. Even if he is describing Hell. This scene owes its intensity to him. While exposition, and a lot of it at that, we, like poor Henry, are quaking in our boots at Rumple’s fearsome description of the Underworld.

Giving a smidgen of the exposition to Henry was a great move for a couple of reasons, first, it breaks up what would otherwise be all but a monologue- not that Carlyle couldn’t execute that brilliantly- but scenes need motion and this provides it. Secondly, we get a tiny glimpse into Rumple’s grandfatherly pride in Henry. I think I can safely speak for everyone when I say that we would all like to see more of a relationship develop between Rumple and Henry, in whatever form it might take.

From a character standpoint, I appreciate that Rumple has found his internal strength again. We have spent quite a bit of time with him crying for one reason or another this season, which has been hard to watch. Not for any reason of Carlyle’s work, but because I find it painful to watch Rumple suffer in fear. Now we can see what Rumple can be when he realizes and embraces his inner resources. He’s scared here, but he’s not in a corner trembling as we’ve seen earlier. Rumple has remembered that power comes from the person, not the tool they wield. As he just told Hook.

Thanks Belle, for getting him to see that.

So, broken hearted and afraid, Rumple stands there and lectures them all on Hell. Then he goes to make his own preparations, bravely. How will this new (at long last understood) confidence effect him in future?

In spite of the fact that Rumple believes he’s going back to Hell, he chooses anger and determination instead of giving in to his fear. He provides leadership to a crowd of terrified heroes. Lovely evidence of heroic transformation.

Speaking of transformation, I love Rumple’s new coat with that leather collar. Nice touch, that reminder of his leather love from back in the Enchanted Forest.

Side note: the weather, you will notice, is perfectly hideous. Those were a couple of extremely wet and miserable November days here in the Pacific Northwest. That storm kept waking me up at night. Walking to work that morning was positively gross and I only had to be outside about forty minutes. They shot all night, I suspect. These folks work SO hard to bring us joy so for just a moment, I want to say that for all the critiquing I do, I am grateful for their hard work and I recognize their sacrifices. Working nights is bad, been there, done that. Working nights out in a storm like that one, oh ICK!

Scene 8: That’s a lot of Dark Ones!

“Marching through the mud, on a dark November night, our uniforms are soaked, our hair it looks a fright!” Ten points for anyone who can identify that reference.

Scene 9: Desperate appeal

Hook’s hip flask…

Robin, it turns out, was right. But Regina lies, she didn’t think she’d find him at the docks, she was skeptical of Robin’s suggestion a few scenes ago.

Hook rightly points out Regina’s sudden and personal form of address. “Bonnes mots” translates literally into “good words” in French. What I love most about this exchange is that Hook admits to wearing guyliner, which makes this a character choice and not just Once poking fun at its own makeup choices. Delightful!

Even better, Hook points out that even with all his evil plans, his past and future plans pale in comparison to Regina’s past deeds. Regina, remember, had no Dark Curse corrupting her. Just her mother… but that’s for another day.

Regina’s appeal works because of the rich history we know for both of these characters. Once has done such a marvelous job of giving us extensive back stories. I cannot think of another show in which we the audience know so much about the characters’ pasts. In this scene, Once reaps the benefits of all the time spent in the past because the audience can quickly grasp this shortcut/recapitulation about Regina’s issues and thus link into the next scene. This worked so much better than Scene 2 between Rumple and Hook, maybe because of the immediacy of the coming flashback.

Nicely done.

Side note the second on the same subject: we can see how hard it is to keep the actors dry in this scene with how much the rain is blowing around. I’m not sure how Lana Parrilla is not shivering head to toe through the entire scene. I know of no colder conditions than blowing November rain… (ok, yes there are the poles, and other snowy places… but wet and cold are FAR more miserable than just cold and snowy.)

Scene 10: Shut Up. Get in the carriage.

Hook’s wine goblet… link to the present with the hip flask. Great!

I’ve got the mettle for it love. Nice line.

Teasing and flirting are always fun. They make this little glue scene work.

Scene 11: So I hear we’re giving up.

Dinner at Granny’s… who’s gonna cook that? Granny might have other things she’d like to be doing. Excuse the snark.

This tender scene between Regina and Emma is beautifully played by both Lana Parrilla and Jennifer Morrison. Especially Morrison. My one wish is that we could have gotten a reaction shot of Regina when Emma tells her she’s on a suicide mission.

I love seeing the dark pragmatist in Regina’s eyes as she recalls that getting rid of the darkness requires someone’s death. We can see how this is far from Regina’s first hard choice and we can watch her armor snap into place. Parrilla’s execution of this is brilliant.

Scene 12: I knew there was a hero in there.

Hearing crickets in the dead of winter is very weird. We should be hearing rain for this night. I don’t know why they chose crickets for Belle’s entrance.

In the running for performance of the night, Carlyle knocks it out of the park in this scene.

It’s the small things, the little choices he makes. Rumple is pacing in the back room of his shop and fiddling with the potion out of nerves. These human tells that often get left out of performances, or cut in production, humanize Rumple and draw us closer to him, draw us into the scene.

What gets me is how layered this performance is. Carlyle is playing two sets of emotions simultaneously.

One: what he wants to show to Belle. Rumple is letting her go (again) and giving her the life she has always wanted. Like when he sent her to town for some straw, he expects never to see her again. So he gives her the car and says goodbye.

Two: how he feels about his impending trip to the underworld. Rumple is sending Belle out of harm’s way. He doesn’t want her to know that he is about to die and he is saying goodbye to her forever. He is sparing her, at least for now, the stress and pain of his death.

This performance works so well because of our unique perspective as the audience. We get to watch both of these goodbyes at the same time giving this scene incredible depth.

Another excellent choice was not to cut the moments of Rumple’s continued pacing and sobs after Belle leaves. They could have cut right to the moment where he looks at the bug on his wrist, but instead we get to feel Rumple’s (and our) heartbreak while we listen to him cry. I say listen because this is shot (mostly) at the back of his head. Though that is a little odd, it works to show us the confined space of his shop.

Pauses like this, non-action purely emotive moments are so often cut. Especially in a packed episode like this one. Giving us the time to take a moment with Rumple allows us to sink into his heartbreak. Contrary to the style of many large budget actiony flicks, the audience benefits from these pauses enormously. When the pacing slows down, we get a chance to sit with our emotions and with the emotions of the characters. The alternative whisks us away from scene to scene and can feel a bit like being dragged by the hair through a story instead of experiencing it with the characters, as happened in this scene. These pauses grant us a deeper connection.

This scene has a rawness to it that would have been lost if it had been cut, rather than filmed more or less continuously from Rumple waiting for Belle to Regina and Emma leaving the shop. Because this is all one scene, we feel the emotional strain on Rumple because he only has that little tiny moment between Belle’s departure and the arrival of SwanQueen to himself. And that is no time at all to deal with a broken heart and looming death. It is also for this tiny moment that he earned his performance of the night.

I can only imagine where Carlyle is emotionally as this is being shot. From letting Belle go to having to put on a brave face in front of Regina and Swan is such a brief moment for transition. As anyone who has ever had to pull themselves together knows, this is tough if not impossible when faced with emotions like these. If I remember correctly, the back of the shop is a sound stage while the front is actually a shop in Steveston. If we assume that is true, the time gap between these two scenes is significant, but Carlyle still must make it appear that no time has elapsed at all. Perhaps that means he goes through the previous scene in his mind all over again before walking through the curtain to “greet” SwanQueen.

I don’t know what the method is for acting a scene like this, but at least a part of the actor experiences what is happening. I imagine that with this scene, like the scene a year ago (our time) at the town line, the actors in question call on their own experiences to inform their performance. For me at least, that would involve reliving something quite painful indeed.

That gets me back to the word raw. Carlyle doesn’t shy away from the pain of this scene in the least, which means we don’t either.

As for the characters themselves, the scene is just as dense.

Rumple wasn’t sure Belle would even come and meet him and given what she starts to say to him when she does, she thought about not coming at all. Belle’s suspicion (Am I going somewhere?) has to hurt, she doesn’t trust him not to try to forced her to go wherever. It is wonderful to watch Belle trying to figure out what he is up to after it’s clear he’s not going to try hauling her off. She knows he’s hurting and she suspects something is up.

The moment he hugs her is important. Belle didn’t want to hug him, note the stiff posture and how she hesitates before putting her arms around him. As is right, when, in the past Belle hasn’t wanted Rumple to touch her, he’s backed off. But now he doesn’t abide by that rule. His need to hold her is so great that he is willing to cross a line he never has before and touch her against her will for his own sake.

I find it difficult to judge Rumple for this breech of etiquette because of the circumstances which he, and we, are aware of and Belle is not. I think, in part, he uses the hug to hide the cracks in his facade from her. Yeah… consent for touch is SO important, but I still can’t find it in me to say Rumple is wrong here.

Belle doesn’t quite know what to make of Rumple’s odd behavior, but she does hug him back. We can see the moment she believes him, after he gives her the car. She feels respected, like she’s been given a chance to care for herself and she feels like he finally paid attention to her needs. She can’t help the smile.

When she looks back at him from the door, as if to say “Are you sure?”, she smiles at his nod.  He’s finally cared for her needs before his own as he should have been doing all along. She is grateful, and she believes him.

Emotional bravery. That describes Rumple in this scene. This is, as far as he knows now, his last chance to love and care for his wife. And he does, magnificently. What a lovely parallel with Skin Deep. When Rumple leads with his heart, he gets it right. What’s more, is that we’ve seen this behavior from Rumple even while he was the Dark One. He’s given her more than one library.

And poor Rumple!!!

We get a nice SwanQueen moment here while Rumple is in the back getting Excalibur. Regina’s dread is palpable. Emma is just resigned.

Listen closely here: Excalibur was always destined for the hands of a true hero.

When we get to the end of the episode, think back on what Rumple says here.

On first pass, I felt Rumple’s comment about Emma’s bravery was itself an act of bravery. He’s never been so open about his feelings with either of them and we can see the surprise on Regina’s face.

I have to admit, I wonder why Rumple was honest a moment later. He says Emma’s plan might not work, that Excalibur chooses whom it finds worthy and it chooses its miracles. Perhaps a moment of self doubt? See the end of the episode.

And finally! Regina gets the invite to Granny’s she’s always wanted. This is lovely. Emma says she needs to be with her family and asks Regina along. SwanQueen!!

Scene 13: Pirates ain’t welcome here.

Princess Bride Reference: Dread Pirate Roberts… it seems we are at an impasse.

Thanks Regina for saving the day on that one!

Quite a nice little comic relief scene much needed after the previous with the tiny glue detail we needed to make the scene worthwhile: father!

Scene 14: Cheeky.

I love Zelena.

The withered knob of that sad old man….

Who else can’t believe they said that on Once??? LOL! In the running for line of the night.

Another runner up: somewhere over the rainbow!!!

Regina dispatches Zelena handily with a wee tornado. So perfect.

I hope we aren’t actually losing Zelena for too long though, she’s such a great foil for Regina.

Scene 15: Belle leaves town.

Rumple lurks, even with a pure heart, that guy lurks like a pro.

Scene 16: What would Emma have done if Regina had agreed to come with her to Granny’s?

Would she have left the note with Regina and trusted her to give it to everyone else later?

Scene 17: Speaking of lurking…

Hook is keeping tabs on Emma. Not sure on the necessity of this scene except perhaps to provide a more smooth transition to the following scene.

Scene 18: about more lurking.

It is nice to see that leather coat back, though I am not certain Colin O’Donoghue is happy to be wearing it, heavy as it is.

Also, timeline police needed. It is unclear now just how many centuries Hook and Rumple have been around. I have heard estimates that Rumple is at or near his third century, which wouldn’t work for Hook’s father’s claim to have left Hook as a child nearly a century ago.

Also, how do you fall in love with someone who is asleep?

Quick question: where is Killian’s brother Liam II now? Is he possibly in Storybrooke? A friend of Henry’s maybe?

Scene 19: Now you care what happens to me?

See, now Emma says, “The thing you spent centuries trying to destroy.”

Timeline help!!!

Emma’s attempted murder of Hook here surprised me. I was not expecting that.

This bit with Hook using a glamor to become Henry lost one whole point for this episode. Not only is Emma much smarter than this, Emma acting like a victim is out of character for her. Emma is in charge and takes crap from no one. She would not have let Hook push her around.

Scene 20: Suicide note.

It reads:

I’m sorry but I can’t let you all pay for my mistake. Deep down, you know I’m right. So please, promise me you’ll move on and find happiness and help Henry grow into the best man he can be. That’s enough for me. To die knowing the family I always wanted is safe. I love you all forever.

Gotta say, Henry, you left Neal right there next to the Dark One… Henry should have grabbed Neal and backed away. It looks like Jared Gilmore felt unsure about that, I wonder what was written.

Scene 21: Where are the dwarves??

So this is really it.

Yes, the SS Purgatory.

Nice line that.

Regina calls Hook on his crap, again. What kind of man do you want to be?

Scene 22: Braver than we think.

Did Liam II see Hook? Would he recognize him?

You’re just not worth it.

Poor Hook, he has even more in common with Rumple than we knew. They’ve both knifed their fathers to death. Only one of them was under a curse at the time… just saying.

Scene 23: Yes, I can.

You have to let me go.

What do I even say about this scene? Sad doesn’t cover it.

Morrison is in the running for performance of the night for this scene.

And I can say, that yes, I definitely cried here.

But I really don’t want to say too much more because this scene, at its core, is a simple one and speaks for itself.

Props to Gilmore for his reaction shots. He’s young, in reality, to experience something like that first hand. Yes, he knows it isn’t real and they all probably went for beer afterwards, except Gilmore doesn’t get any beer, but he did have to be there in the moment in his mind in order to perform in that scene. I think that might potentially be a lot for a young mind to handle.

Scene 24: After

If I was crying a scene ago, I was crying more when the put the sheet over Hook’s face.

I do wish there hadn’t been a scene break here though. It took me away from the moment and I would have benefited from the falling action as we did with Rumple after Belle left. If not for the scene break, this would have worked that way.

Scene 25: All night drinking.

The blowing leaves are a wonderful transition. And I love this pretty shot at dawn after a stormy night with the sky all rained out. I will say that dawn on that day didn’t look like that here, it rained all day too. Yes I realize that the entire episode wasn’t filmed on the same night, but I suspended my disbelief.

Rumple sounds a bit plastered when he yells, “Get out, we’re closed!”

I couldn’t believe my eyes. That Rumbelle kiss I’ve been waiting for? Oh yeah. I didn’t see that coming. I was certain that we wouldn’t see Belle again, maybe not for the rest of the season.

I was giggling for all I was worth. I felt that kiss to my toes!

Which means it was worth the wait.

Scene 26: Whispers

Emma didn’t sleep that night either. But now what?

At that moment I knew. I knew what the whispers meant. Excalibur wasn’t gone.

Then this cut.

Scene 27: At least somebody’s happy.

Thank you Once for being explicit (ish) about what happened between Belle and Rumple after that kiss. We don’t get a heck of a lot of spicy scenes in Once, unfortunately, but at least we know that they happen even if off camera.

Anyway, getting back to the point about the whispers. I said aloud at that scene cut, “Oh no!!”

Also, as if it wasn’t clear enough already, what kind of idiot isn’t still naked in bed with his wife while she sleeps???

And Rumple gets a text from Emma.

Scene 28: The Darkest One

NO!!! Rumple!!! Argh!!!

And look at that thing. Dang.

Oh, and I totally called it. He grabbed power when in dire straights.

Now that we’re over it a little, let’s set the record straight.

Rumple didn’t kill Hook. Rumple didn’t intend to kill Emma. Rumple wasn’t even certain his plan would work, per his comment about Excalibur choosing its miracles. Rumple planned on telling no one about his power, which means he had intended to continue being the good man Belle deserved.

Rumple’s intention was to take advantage of a situation not of his making to salvage what was left of his lot in life. He had lost Belle, she was gone. His heart was in tatters and he had lost his power. He was either going to die if Hook succeeded, or maybe, Excalibur willing, get his powers back. And then some.

Rumple also said that Excalibur belongs in the hands of a true hero, which at that moment he considered himself to be, and with good reason, slight of hand aside. Now he has (half of?) Excalibur for his tether. Could Rumple, now that he has been heroically transformed by his wife, be the hero Merlin was talking about, the one person who might be capable of using this power for good?

I suspect that that pure heart of his, tarnished surely by this deed but hey, and Belle will help him reign in the darkness. However, if the decision were left in my hands, I’d make him struggle with it.

About what Emma said regarding betraying everyone… I’d say the only person Rumple set out to betray was Emma herself because he did intend for her sacrifice to be for naught. Or rather for his gain. But Rumple had nothing to do with Hook’s sacrifice or Emma’s decision to run Hook through. Rumple didn’t kill Hook, Arthur did, back in Camelot.

Question: if the dagger is whispering, where is the other half of Excalibur?

Things are as they should be.

Rumple now has the combined power of every Dark One who ever lived.

I love listening to Carlyle narrate. This little montage gave us the falling action we needed after Emma ran Hook through. This pulls us back from our emotional flailing about and back into the narrative. I just love the satisfaction oozing out of Carlyle with this scene. Rumple has it all, his wife, his power-plus- and he gets to engage in a favorite past time: taunting.

Does Emma still hear the dagger because she was once infected with the darkness? Or do the effects of that infection still linger? It gives me a perhaps perverse sense of satisfaction to watch Emma lunge at Rumple in an attempt to kill him because that action says to me that while Emma may not be the Dark One anymore, we haven’t see the last of Dark Emma. Rumple couldn’t resist the temptation of the darkness while being the Dark One or after. I do not think Emma will just flip on a dime back to being the righteous Savior we knew. This is to the good, I think.

And Emma makes the same mistake Hook made, and she makes it again. She threatens Rumple’s marriage. That didn’t go well for Hook last season. And if Rumple needed any impetus to screw Emma over, the little incident with Merida trying to kill his wife would certainly give Rumple a reason for revenge.

Let’s keep in mind that Rumple was comatose for all of the happy little trip to Camelot. It’s tough to blame Rumple for Emma’s bad decisions made while she was the Dark One. He did not choose to give her the darkness. She took that herself, for a start. Though twisted and mutilated by dark influences, he tried to contain the damage the Dark One could cause by having Isaac write them all a little alterverse. It also bares keeping in mind that Isaac wrote that, not Rumple, for his own ends. He just did Rumple a favor by giving him a good life.

As many wrong decisions as Rumple has made, he did not remove the darkness from himself or set it free. He tried to contain it and spent the majority of his lifetime atoning for mistakes, though he has continued to make them. Rumple, realizing he could not even protect Belle as he wanted sent her away many times for love. He is not to blame for the consequences of Camelot. Not by any stretch. Unless becoming the Dark One to protect Baelfire from the war can be considered an act born of darkness. I thought not.

Scene 29: You’re going to Hell?

Wait a second… Gold didn’t trick Killian. Back the blame train up a parsec Miss Swan.

Rumple hoped to trick Emma. Hook, minus the Dark One, seemingly would have died from Excalibur’s scratch curtesy of Arthur.

Somebody was going to die, Hook just kinda did double duty and it was NOT Rumple’s fault.

Again, Rumple took advantage of a situation to save his own hide. He was not aiming for Hook and not even certain it would work.

Poor Emma, but… I’m doing this right?

Really? Hook should have died in Camelot, he asked her to let him go. She didn’t and screwed him over by making him the Dark One. What makes her think that cheating the Underworld out of its rightful denizen is right? She’s just scheming to assuage her own broken heart.

Now before anyone gets upset… I doubt I’d personally do any better on the decision making front at this point and I think going to the Underworld is a great writing decision. But I don’t think Emma deciding again to cheat death is a “right” as in moral decision.

Hook has made the decision to die twice. That is HIS right, Emma.

She’s not giving in to love, she’s giving in to selfishness.

No, before you ask, I don’t want Hook dead. I like him! And I like him and Emma together as a couple. But let’s call a spade a spade.

Scene 30: Do it.

This final scene left me with several questions.

First: why would either of Henry’s moms agree to taking him to the Underworld?

Second: why does Rumple use the dagger to provide a blood sample when any blade will do, and also, why cut the palm of a hand (then not just heal it by magic) when it makes much more sense to cut somewhere less mobile and easier to heal up?

Third: now everyone in Storybrooke knows Rumple’s the Dark One again making Emma’s threat to Belle rather an empty one.

Forth: why does Rumple go with them? He doesn’t have to. He could open the portal and he could have just sent them on their way with a blood sample. Even more than that, since Emma didn’t keep her end of the deal (by keeping Belle in the dark) Rumple doesn’t have to hold up his end either.

Lastly, “I will always find you,” belongs to the Charmings. Emma’s appropriation of it comes off cheesy to me.


Closing impressions: In spite of all my whinging toward the end, I did love this episode. Still, the 7/10 rating stands for the following problems:

There are a few mechanisms, when used in story telling, that bug me. Here is one of them. The reset button. I always hated sitcoms of the 1990s because nothing ever changed, ever evolved. It is also a problem with episodic dramas and procedurals of the same era. (I cannot comment on the modern versions much because I don’t watch sitcoms and avoid procedurals if I can find something better to watch.) I don’t like stories to be too chunkified. Pressing the reset button is a cop out of having to deal with real change and difficult character situations. Once has now done this twice in one episode. Emma is no longer the Dark One and Rumple has been restored as the singular dark badass we first met.

I say this, and yet this was my hoped for outcome even so. I had a hard time with Emma being infected with darkness and an even harder time seeing Rumple without his quiet, confident and competent power behind him. But life has consequences. There is no reset button. So this mechanism yanks me away from my ability to suspend my disbelief and perceive, at least while I am watching, that Once is real. Cardinal sin: do not yank me out of the daydream!!!

That said, I love that they didn’t shy away from killing Hook and lots went right this arc! But looking back at two major flaws that are rubbing me wrong are the memory wipe and this reset button business.

A third is a have my cake and eat it too dilemma. For a moment, Belle took strong independent steps toward living her own life, standing on her own two feet. But that only lasted about twenty minutes, screen time. As much as I whined in nearly all of these reviews about the lack of Rumbelle kisses, the need for Belle to truly become more than just Rumple’s Achilles heel won out in the end. They had an obvious opportunity here to let Belle’s story cross the midseason arc boundary and give her the chance to grow on her own. But they didn’t take it.

Now she’s just been screwed by Rumple, again. Literally and figuratively. Though I also cannot say that I wasn’t delighted by that scene. I have to wonder if these choices were motivated by factors external to the show, which they well could be. This would not be the first adaptation show writers have ever made for the same reason.

Looking back over these past eleven episodes I really have to say we have seen some delicious bits of writing, some splashes of genius and brilliant story telling. Compared with what else is available on television right now, Once is a rare opportunity for wonder and enjoyment. For me at least, most of the rest of what I have sampled is decidedly lackluster by comparison.

To give Season 5A an over all rating, I’d say 7.5/10. These missing points are for the issues mentioned above. I use Season 1 as my benchmark, what 10/10 looks like in the Once universe, because that was what drew me to this show with its imagination and heart.

What Once needs now, in my never-has-been-humble opinion is an over arching direction. Seasons One and Two had that: the promise of the premise. Fairytale characters in our world who don’t know who they are. Season 1, they figure it out. Season 2, they interact more with our world. But now? We have directionality only in half season chunks at a time without so much as a compass heading for the future. One of the reasons Battlestar Galactica 2003 worked so well was its ever present framework of finding Earth. With that basic and vague compass heading, the audience stayed tethered through a few rough side journeys and even some rather questionable love trapezoids, dare I say so. Once needs a compass heading, something for the fans to hold on to which makes it possible to ignore human mistakes in storytelling that happen in all shows because we can look over the horizon to the greater promise.

I can’t wait for more and I can’t leave off without saying that no matter how I critique this show and point out its flaws, I do love this show. Once has been a huge impetus for personal growth and exploration and I can’t remember the last time a TV show did that for me. Maybe Buffy the Vampire Slayer came close.

Come check out my Once projects:

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

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

Broken Heart 5X10

Broken Heart: 5X10

Overview: spoiler-free

My first, and dominant, reaction to this episode was satisfaction. I loved this episode. That said, I had a lot of flurrying emotions swirling around my head and it took a while for them to settle into a fluffy, white blanket of cool sadness. They didn’t name it Broken Heart for nothing, after all. Snow is beautiful and quiet. But ultimately it is bleak and cold. I am shivering and it is dark out.

This is not a complaint. This is what I have been asking of Once for a year now. Frozen didn’t do it for me. I have been looking for Once to be grittier, to pack more of a punch. It is and it has. And it’s excellent.

I think the creators are between a rock and a hard place. It seems to me that many fans came to Once because it bordered on children’s television at times and now those fans are probably having a bit of a rough go of it. But after the Pan and Frozen arcs, for those of use who really want adult television which can rip our hearts from our chests and hold them up for us to see, this is it. This is what we have been waiting for.

I know that it sounds a little crazy on the surface to say I like to cry, that sad stories are among my favorites, but if that is crazy, I am in good company. A good story pays the audience in emotion, and, the more varied and deep the emotion, the better the story. In my book. The thing about all those happy, bright emotions of hope and love that we all like and have come to expect from Once is that we have to earn them. We the audience must eat our kale before we get dessert. I happen to like kale (literally and figuratively). And I like dessert. But no one stays with a story that is all sap all the time.

Kale is such a wonderful vegetable, especially with a good sauce.

My point is this, have hope and have faith in Once. Yes, we are in a moment of darkness. Hug the Oncer next to you, grab a box of tissues and ENJOY your kale. Because your tears (your anger?) mean you care about this show, you care about what happens to the characters. Soak a few tissues and rejoice, Once has touched you deeply and it has become real (see the Velveteen Rabbit).

Performance of the night goes to Colin O’Donoghue for his dark glee and two particular scenes which you can probably already guess. But never fear if not, read below and I will illuminate you.

Overall rating: 9/10. The loss of this one point is for yanking me out of the stream in one particular scene. Never, ever let me notice that this isn’t real. The second the veil of belief is shattered, the flow and experience of the episode is ruined at least for as long as it takes for me to fall back under the spell. See below for detail. And also, expect my phone to be off the hook while I’m watching something. I enter deeply into the fictional world of books and film, to the point sometimes that I do not notice even my own thoughts, a lot like a dream state, but I am awake (Show me the fMRI to prove it). I love this and when it gets ruined, I get testy.

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

Scene 1: Reborn

Opening Image: The eyes of the desperate.

A great choice for opening image. Emma is in for it tonight.

Hook gets his creepy show on the creepy road in a hurry with a good old fashioned memory wipe.

So now we know why Emma took memories… Ok, the mechanism was different and the reason is a really interesting plot point which Once took great pains to explain in long and glorious detail… Have I forgiven the writers for this yet? Oh man, I’m still annoyed. I might have to concede this one, but I’m just not ready to do it yet.

Scene 2 (plus montage): Hi.

Oh Rumple, DO!!! (Dark One.) I am not sure I have ever been more delighted with a character, or with an actor. I just keep giggling delightedly. So shiny! (Browncoats forgive me.) I truly wish I could identify all Robert Carlyle’s source material for even just this one scene. I count five different accents in the space of a one minute scene. That’s four plus Rumple (from his Dark Castle era). One of them reminds me a great deal of an old time showman gathering an audience for a traveling freak show or circus. Or maybe a snake oil peddler from the old West. The rest I can distinguish, but not successfully associate. Can you figure them all out? I know Carlyle has them straight in his head, that much is obvious and they are well executed.

What I love is that this is gleeful, childlike Rumple who has lived so long, he has an endless arsenal of caricatures to mock and deploy for his own amusement. This wealth of expression, I imagine, would be nearly impossible to write for and therefore comes from Carlyle himself. Have I mentioned that this guy impresses me? Besides, why write for it, when Carlyle will do a better job making it up himself on the fly than any planned line could ever extract from an actor?

Dudes. Did you realize that this is freaking exposition? O’Donoghue is in danger of losing his crown for this episode in the second scene for exposition.

Scene 3: Captain Dark One

I guess it was an immobilization spell. We never got the explanation we needed of what Emma was doing outside with Excalibur two episodes ago.

I really like this scene of Emma curled up on her couch not doing a damned thing. These are feelings I have when the excrement gets real. This moment humanizes her, lets us know that while the darkness is twisting her, she’s not as far gone as I had previously thought. Like Rumple, it hasn’t swamped her completely. Unlike, it would appear, certain other people.

No one can tell you you’re an idiot quite like Regina can.

Credit where credit is due. Ginnifer Goodwin gives a convincing mother scolding here. She says what we’re all thinking.

Even though our hero faction is in panic mode, their relief at just having Emma talk to them is palpable in this scene. Frankly, so is mine. I have really missed Emma being on our side. I am so used to knowing what Emma is thinking and feeling that it felt so cold to be shut out.

This, Once, has been a really effective technique. Once used on the audience what Emma used on her family. And it felt bad. We lost someone we loved to the darkness as surely as Regina and the Charmings did and oh how it hurt.

Having Emma back feels like a warm hug. Even if she’s homicidal.

Scene 4: So what are you waiting for? Get on with it.

As a writer, I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to have Hook mock Rumple. But it is O’Donoghue who executes. I am thoroughly enjoying Dark Pirate so far. O’Donoghue looks to be having a blast at it and this might just earn him performance of the night.

I wonder if part of Hook is counting on Rumple to win this fight and set him free (kill him) because he knows he can’t fight off the darkness on his own. Like with Rumple and Emma, I don’t want to believe that the darkness has completely swamped our pirate. But I fear it may have, and so, I believe, does he.

Of note, there is deep misery in Rumple’s eyes. He’s had that haunted look since he woke up. Regret, no doubt, as he expressed to us recently. While I know he wants to live for Belle, I have to consider that Rumple too, might be looking for a way out. I don’t think he cares too much for revenge at this point, but there are two possible positive outcomes to this duel from Rumple’s perspective. First, he ends a threat to his wife and everyone else. Second, it’s over and Rumple gets (again from his perspective) his just deserts. The guilt must be overwhelming for him.

Now don’t mistake me here. I am no advocate for self annihilation and I don’t want to see either character dead. But, these seem like plausible motivations to me for both of them.

Scene 5: War Council- not invited.

Forgive me, but Regina playing with the tip of Rumple’s sword is just to rich for me not to point out. There are many theories as to the nature of their past student/teacher relationship and I certainly have mine. You may all (rightly) point out that I have been known to snorkel in the gutter, but I will point out to you, that that tiny scene, that little moment has absolutely no baring on the plot and could have been shot any number of ways. This, my friends, is subtext and only subtext. Here’s your snorkel, amusement is to be found here.

Side note, you wouldn’t ever balance a sword blade down in a wood table. Not good for the table, also not good for the sword.

PS: thanks for the vote of confidence, Belle. Nice to know you care, but golly, way to boost a guy’s spirits. Of course it is nice to see them touch in public, though.

I love that Rumple laughs at Emma’s offer of protection.

Jared Gilmore does a nice job with this thematic exposition here. No one could have illustrated Emma’s fall better than Henry. Yes, this is summary, but it makes sense. Henry needs to tell his mother off. And we need to hear him do it.

They’ve changed.

Regina gets her warm and fuzzy. Rumple feels guilty and undeserving.

Speaking of unusual. Rumple never sits on the war council to offer useful advice and Emma always gets to go with the heroes. Nice little reversal here.

Class act, both Belle and Rumple respond to the tension between parents and child while Mary Margaret and David tell Emma they can’t trust her. Carlyle and Emilie de Ravin are both actively still in the scene even though they are fuzzed out in the background. It is nice to see that they are not checked out because their moment has passed. Sometimes, if you happen to notice, you can see that checking out happening in the backgrounds of scenes. But not with these two actors.

Scene 6: Newly forged

I appreciate that the Charmings use the skills they have to try to solve the problem even though they are woefully lacking. As Regina points out. Great, Mary Margaret can track, but that’s useless. It is consistent with her character that she try that though. The writers could have just cut to the chase with Regina saying Hook could be anywhere because he’s a Dark One, but they chose to use screen time to show us the Charmings being ineffectual. This communicates their helplessness.

Lady of the Lake as Lancelot’s mum. Interesting. I hope they pay this off later.

Scene 7: Why must Dark Ones dress like monks?

That is a great question!!!

And even better than that: we get to see that leather coat again!!!! I’ve been in love with that leather coat since we first saw it.

Then there’s Rumple, DO. Could this scene get any better? This is a glue scene and it’s hilarious! (Glue scene: little moment where nothing happens other than dispensing a tiny piece of vital plot information to move the story forward or grant cohesion.)

I completely missed it about the dark curse suggestion the first time. My guess is that I took the misdirect given by Hook. He dismisses the suggestion out of hand because of Emma… but there’s always a loophole!

Call it 7b: It worked!

Ah yes, where’s his tether? I love Rumple, DO’s expression here. That was so good, they’d cut away from Hook to get it. They could have opted to shoot both of them together, but this was definitely worth the voiceover. By the by, looks like Rumple, DO got new contacts. His eyes are much more yellow now, than grey or even black. Even in the dark. I like them.

Perhaps my favorite part of this episode, Emma and Hook both see the same delusion: Rumple, DO. Talk about having the devil on your shoulder. Rumple, DO peering over Hook’s shoulder at Emma while he calls her ineffectual is creepy, and great.

Side note: willing suspension of disbelief. If any of you have ever been in the woods at night, beyond the campfire, away from any artificial light, you know it isn’t just dark. It’s black dark. You cannot see at all. Unless there’s a moon. So these sequences require artificial light sources which we simply ignore because we must. Unless you’re me, who notices and just doesn’t care.

Emma makes a critical mistake here. She could have perhaps True Love’s kissed the darkness out of Hook right here, but instead she’s more worried about Rumple, DO. She figured she’d have another chance at that? Or did she think she couldn’t use it because it would kill him, Excalibur cut and all.

Scene 8: Meet me at the Well

I feel for Belle in this scene. For Rumple, the path is clear: do whatever it takes to prove to his wife he’s worthy of her, to love her as she deserves.

But for Belle, her ex is a murderer and worse. Sure, he’s been through a heroic transformation, but how long will that last? The last time, it only lasted as long as it took for Zelena to kill Baelfire and torture Rumple’s resolve to fight the darkness away. The first obligation of a prisoner is to escape. The dagger was Rumple’s prison even after Zelena’s kennel. Rumple’s plight is understandable, but Belle knows Rumple is prone to darkness. He’s been shaped by it for hundreds of years. When put up against the wall with power in reach, who among us honestly thinks he won’t reach for it, even if it is dark magic?

Belle has a badly broken heart with few assurances that life with him would ever be any easier. Let’s face it: Rumple would be a pain in the tail to live with. Having to prop someone else up all the time is exhausting. The guy is seriously needy. Yes, caring for those we care about is part of life, but caring for the self has to happen too. It’s not selfish, it’s self care and it’s required for basic function in this world. If you can’t function, you can’t help anyone else function. It really is that simple. Belle, right now, can’t function emotionally. It is so bad that she took up with Will to try to prop herself up. She is facing an emotional dam breach and her first instinct was to shove Will into the cracks.

The person she loves has probably violated just about every value she’s ever had. She loves the guy anyway. Talk about painful cognitive dissonance. But she can’t just tolerate his behavior, look the other way and pretend nothing is wrong. She’s got integrity to look after. She tried to help him change and he did nothing but lie to her, manipulate her and then plan (and mostly execute) some seriously heinous shenanigans. That’s not water under the bridge. That’s the flood that took out the bridge in a torrent of flotsam.

If it were me, it would take a whole lot of healing to even get to a point of forgiveness, never mind taking him back. The guy is an emotional sea anchor caught in a whirlpool. I’m a practical gal, and so is Belle.

So this is messy and painful. If you’ve read more than three paragraphs together of my work you know how much I adore Rumple. I really do. And I support his journey toward becoming somebody worthy of Belle. But I can’t willfully ignore the cost of his behavior on her emotionally.

Take the town line scene from Heroes and Villains for example. In our society, attempted murder comes with a pretty stiff penalty. Jail time, I believe (you can look up the details if they matter to you). Belle happens to be the only person capable of dispensing justice on Rumple, at great personal cost. This is an act of courage which stabs deeply both ways. She was right to do it. He would never have stopped. That’s the nature of the Dark One as we are more and more being forced to face. She could not have loved this out of him. And she tried, vigorously.

All of that to say, oh Belle, I’m here for you sister. That’s one tough choice!!

PS: Not wanting me to die is not the same as wanting to be with me.

Talk about courage! We don’t talk nearly enough about Rumple’s emotional honesty. This is a characteristic he’s always had, when he chooses to use it. It takes a whole lot to call the woman you love from your deathbed, in front of your son and company and in vivid detail, tell her exactly what you think of her and how deeply you love. It takes courage to tell your wife to go with another man, more than once, because you know the quality of what you have to offer is insufficient to what she deserves. I mean wow.

Rumple has compassion and understanding for Belle’s feelings and is demonstrating the path for us. It’s easy to get angry at Belle for tossing him over the line and breaking all of our hearts. It’s hard to wade into all those conflicting emotions neck deep and feel deeply and genuinely for both Rumple and Belle.

Scene 9: You!

How much do I love Nurse Ratched??? If Once were to decide to give a back story on another character, I’d choose her. Follow by our floor mopping, chatterbox friend. I love these little tie-ins with the past.

Of all the truly awful things Once characters have done, Zelena is the first rapist. To be honest, with all the murders, deceit and casting of enslaving curses etc, I was expecting them to go here a lot sooner and a lot more directly than they did. I actually really like how they’ve come at this. A very unexpected look at sexual assault.

This is a bit of a glue scene, but also some thematic exposition. It has lovely motion and emotion though. Also humor. Well put together. Note, Once frequently uses humor to add depth to glue scenes.

Is that a compliment?

Oh wow. I mean. Oh Zelena. She really thinks she has the right of things and that is what makes this character. Zelena does not even notice that what she is doing is wrong.

Regina has a heck of a rap-sheet, but she’s always been aware of what she was doing.

Scene 10: A broken knee is nothing on a broken heart.

I always wonder about what kinds of choices a new magic user will make when it comes to gestures. O’Donoghue just showed me he’s got chops. To be honest, I never bought Merlin’s gestures. Maybe it’s because I’ve been so used to watching Rumple’s theatric and Regina’s often rather practical styles. Though Rumple does use more practical gestures when it seems called for. Jennifer Morrison’s gestures have been ok, but not astounding.  This flippant gesture to render Merida a heap on the floor is emotive and it works very well.

When, as an actor, someone auditions for the part of a wizard, they know at least a little of what they’re getting into. But I’m pretty sure O’Donoghue did not plan on being a wizard when he auditioned for a role as a pirate. How will he adapt? So far so good!

Here’s an ouchy scene and one in which O’Donoghue makes his bid for performance of the night. That little phrase, I want to hurt you, gave me chills.

Oh but this scene feels so bad. I just love Hook telling Emma his feelings for her, and it isn’t overblown. O’Donoghue opted for understated here letting the content do the talking, which was so, so cold and so very effective. I wish more American actors would make choices like that. Actors from a certain group of islands north of Europe seem to have the corner on that market though.

Scene 11: What a cut.

I maintain that Emma missed her opportunity to use True Love’s Kiss on Hook. If she had just kissed him the second he said he wanted that future with her, that emotion would have been pure enough, perhaps. But she distracted him with Rumple, DO’s disappearance. In addition to that, she didn’t believe it would work because she is not surprised that when she kissed him, nothing happened. Hmm.

I know I keep going on and on about Rumple, DO, but the glee I get from watching him keeps going… and going… What a creep!!! I love it.

And Hook is so right. No one believes he can fight it.

A little darkness, a little (a lot) corruption of the heart and a good love story becomes a tragedy. This scene is illustrative of real life in a beautifully painful way. When trust is broken, when love isn’t approached with honesty as well as the best interests the loved one at heart, it cannot breathe. It struggles and squirms, but it cannot breathe.

It’s like what Rumple, and it let’s face it Charming, said: I want to love you with honesty and courage. Here there is a failure of both and disaster is the result.

I’m not saying I could have done better personally, but Emma should have let Hook go. He asked her to. She abrogated his free will for selfish reasons (no matter what Mary Margaret said about choosing love, what nonsense) and infected him with vileness. This was wrong. The dying have the right to decide for themselves and Emma stole that from Hook out of cowardice.

Again, not saying I’d have done any better, but the right choice was not what Emma did.

Scene 12: Rumple takes a swing at his… counter? What?

Sorry, but I don’t get why Rumple was in his shop dulling his blade on his counter top.

I do however appreciate Rumple’s dig at Emma. Yet again, you show up here to make demands. Go… well this is a PG page… yourself.

My feud with the captain predates you by centuries.

Here’s Rumple’s subtext: I’m smarter than he is, and this is a measuring contest between men.

But, he doesn’t like Emma calling him out about his suicidal ideations. Belle’s reaction to his “Let me love you,” speech confirmed what Rumple already suspected. All he has to lose here is himself. But he still hopes.

And he dispenses some truly excellent advice here: confidence is great at starting a fight, but not so great for finishing one.

Rumple’s going to go finish a fight. One way or another.

Scene 13: Bad judgement or the right thing to do?

Line of the night: Once you go Green, you’ll never go Queen.

And now I’m wondering if Lana Parrilla is left handed. Silly, I know, but I like keep track of these things.

My favorite part of this scene is the eye contact between Zelena and Regina. I don’t know if Regina started to get through to her sister or not, but this gave me a glimmer of hope.

Note, Robin did not say that he considers his daughter, Green Bean for now, to be Regina’s child. Ouch again, Regina.

This scene is touching, all snark aside.

Scene 14: Operation Cobra Part II

Scenes between Gilmore and Jennifer Morrison have been wonderful from the start. This is no exception. It is so good to have Emma back. I really have missed her.

But I don’t buy that Emma really couldn’t figure out how to get her dreamcatcher back by herself. I suspect she decided to take Rumple’s advice and involved her son in order to build bridges, not because she couldn’t figure out a locator spell on her own.

Scene 15: Dark One I summon thee

Kudos to Emma for forking over Excalibur… a beautifully played scene.

But what the heck is up with that perfectly straight path through the field of flowers??? That looks like the camera track. This really pulled me out of the moment with this scene. I know that field of flowers is unnatural as can be and I know the camera has to go somewhere, but it’s totally possible to shoot Emma from a low angle so we never see the track and then be a bit careful with how the flowers get trampled. I know it’s possible because we saw it the first time we came to this set. Pressed for time? Pressed for money? Short cuts like this aren’t normal for this show. This loses a point for this episode. Cardinal sin, don’t remind me that this isn’t real.

Scene 16: Don’t you mean die for the people you love?

If I see one shred of hope for Hook it is because of this: he challenges Rumple to a fair fight and then heals his foot. That means that the old Killian Jones, the one with a code, still has some opinions, so voice. I wish I could remember where I heard or read that Mr. Carlyle was the fencing champion at his school. If I can find it easily, I’ll share the link. (Sorry, will keep looking. If you can find it, post it in the comments below!)

Note: I guess Rumple’s preparations included whacking class display cases and a costume change. Hrmmm.

Scene 17: Are you ok?

It looks worse than it is. No, I’d say it doesn’t look as bad as it is.

Scene 18: Merlin records his voicemail message.

The worst case scenario is already here.

That red glow on Hook’s face is gorgeous!

Oh Rumple, DO! Cut it open and count the rings. By the way, Merlin can see Rumple, DO. Without his power. How’s that?

This is a bit of terribly scary exposition. Effective, that.

Scene 19: More delectable fight scene…

Somehow I just don’t buy that Rumple would make a mistake of this nature. He knows his sword can’t kill Hook… so why bury it in his chest and lose it? Maybe he made this mistake… maybe.

Continuity error here: Rumple is sword deep in Hook (no laughing) after having been punched in the face. We see blood, then we don’t, then we see blood again. Then we don’t… These details must be looked after.

Scene 20: Henry the thief.

Just curious, for such a smart guy, why would Rumple leave something as important as squid ink in the “safe” everybody knows about which every child in Storybrooke, apparently, can break into? Continuity oops of the character variety. Another part of that missing point. That’s got to be the least safe safe in Storybrooke.

Scene 21: Killian Jones is dead. Long live the Dark Pirate…

Oh, I don’t actually mean that.

What I didn’t catch the first time was Emma figuring out what Hook/Nimue’s plan was. I was rather distracted by the impending death of Merlin.

I am quite sorry Merlin has died. I had rather hoped to keep him for a while. But good for Once for actually killing someone when the plot demanded that somebody had to die.

Scene 22: Finish him.

So, did Rumple plan the end of this fight in this location? Plan on a distraction then drop something on Hook’s head? Or is this luck, quick thinking? I am still not certain on this and I’m not certain which I would have written. Rumple is wily, but I would prefer Hook’s gloating and distraction to be his undoing.

Also, if Merlin, sans powers, can see Nimue, then Rumple should be able to see Rumple, DO and should have been able to see him since he first woke up in Emma’s basement.

Where’s the blood from Rumple’s lip??? Those bleed a while.

It occurs to me that Rumple might have just decided not to become the Dark One again. I am not sure if Excalibur, now that it’s whole, would render him the Dark One again for killing one with it, but he may have made that choice.

I went on at quite some length about how, in a tight spot, Rumple would again choose power. I still think that’s true. Winning a fight and walking away with the prize doesn’t count as a tight spot. Rumple wants his wife, in this moment, he has a chance to go get his happy ending. I suppose it makes sense that he chose in favor of that outcome.

I am not certain, were I Belle, that I would have let Rumple go to that duel alone. I know she had research to do, but if that were my true love, no matter how pissed I was at him, I’d find a way to show up. I’d probably hide, or watch from a roof top half a block away, because Dark Pirate scares me, but I don’t think I could not watch that. Even knowing there was nothing I could do to help.

Scene 23: The Well

A lot of memories wrapped up in that there sword, Rumple. And it’s quite pretty.

I don’t think he expected her to come. He hoped, but didn’t think she’d show.

I love how he doesn’t respond immediately. He can’t catch his breath for the surging of his heart at hearing her voice.

Ok everyone. Rumple has a broken heart, Belle has a broken heart and so do all the fans. Probably a few, at least, of the writers too. Just so you know, it hurts the writers too when they write this stuff. Writers are attached to their characters, maybe more deeply than fans are. When writing fiction, I have broken my own heart badly enough that I stopped writing for months on end.

Deep breaths. The knee-jerk reaction is to want to shake poor Belle until she sees what she just left standing at their alter. But it will take a little more reflection to come to a place of respect for Belle’s decision. Rumple is a lot of work. Belle has bits of a shattered heart to work with, if she can even find the pieces at this point. Humor me for a moment and pretend that this isn’t a fictional relationship. Yes I realize what I am asking. Pick a scene from a relationship in your life, yours or someone else’s that you know a lot about and have that in mind while you bear with me here on this.

Belle hit the nail on the head, he’s broken her heart and her trust too many times. There is a limit to how much trust to extend to someone before cutting the offender off from hurting you anymore. He has by far crossed that line by any measure of reasonability. And love stretches those limits much further than any more practically objective measure ever would. Belle has done absolutely everything she can for this guy.

She has nothing left for herself. Her emotional well is dry. Asking her to do anything other than what she just did is asking her to be a doormat. She should stand up for herself. Take the time she needs to figure out who she is without Rumple so she can decide what she is or is not willing to risk on him as he is now. She has every right to do this. This is boundary setting. It is about self respect. Every person decides what kind of behavior they will and will not accept from those they love. If not, they and their values are trodden upon. Belle has declared that no more of his garbage will she take.

Rumple’s actions have consequences. He hurt his wife, over and over again. Reformed now? Quite possibly. But wounds take time to heal, if they ever do.

This scene is beautifully written because Once has risen to the challenge of playing these two sides of the coin against each other. They are showing us the conflict. These conflicts are so very real in our daily lives. Within every relationship, one party will do something the other doesn’t like and the two of them have to figure out what to do about it next.

For minor infractions, you put the damned toilet seat down and wipe the urine off the floor. Only animals and tiny children get a pass on just peeing on whatever is convenient and leaving it. Petty and lazy behaviors are changed through maturity and deciding to do what someone else wants you to because you love them and it would make them happier. And stuff like toilet seat etiquette costs very little emotionally to change and can reap huge benefits in a relationship. It comes down to the fine art of negotiation. For the little stuff, it’s fairly easy. But values are big ticket items. High emotional costs for both parties. In cases such as these, sometimes there is no middle ground, someone has to change, a lot. Sometimes this is impossible, but sometimes real change can happen.

Belle got on Rumple’s case about skinning Robin Hood alive, then hunting him down to kill him, because he stole from the Dark One. She declared that this was a big ticket item for her. It was for him too. If the Dark One is a push-over, his power base goes to hell in a hand-basket. Belle grabbed Rumple by the values and demanded he see her side of things. Quite aside from not wanting to leave a child fatherless, Rumple decided to let this go because it was important to Belle. Love.

It is tempting and easy to rage against Belle for breaking our hearts. Again. But that would be a mistake and an oversimplification. It isn’t wrong for her to need time to lick her wounds alone. And that’s what she asked him for here. She didn’t just not show up. She showed up and said, “I love you.”

Our hurting hearts crave resolution, an easing to our pain. But here is the most healthy part of the meal which is best not left on the plate. The kale. We stand to learn a great deal about ourselves and what we value by looking at our attitude toward Belle in this moment. Do we respect Belle for being the strong woman that she is and standing up for her values? Or do we blame her and say she is being selfish, not giving enough of herself?

Belle has given more than I would have. By a long, long way.

I hope, for both of their sakes that Rumple gets it together and earns her trust again. But that guy’s got work to do, my friends. And it starts by respecting her choices.

Scene 24 plus montage: Where did Emma send Merlin’s remains?

Oh how I love the curse boiling over Emma as she holds Hook. That is beautiful!

Scene 25: We can trust her.

A nice but necessary little scene where Emma tries to pull herself back toward those she loves.

Scene 26: Congratulations.

That’s a lot of Dark Ones.


Consider my heart broken, and me terrified. Job well done Once!

This is why I am so satisfied with this episode. This is packed with substantive material and it moves. I didn’t see Hook opening the gate to the underworld coming.

Once heard my heart’s desires and answered. Last year I was frustrated by Frozen, it was light on substance with motivations that strained believability. And I had thought they couldn’t do worse than Neverland during which our characters wondered lost in the woods and whined for half a season. Don’t get me wrong, there were elements of both arcs which I dearly loved. But my heart was aching for something adult, something with depth, and grit and yes, pain. Christmas has come early, Once broke my heart.

Now, where’s that kale?

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!

The Bear King 5X09

The Bear King: 5X09

Overview: spoiler-free

A very different experience from the previous episode. Almost like this episode doesn’t belong in this season stylistically. Still, there is room for love here. See Once and the Currency of Pain for more about this episode. Most of my reaction to the double header came in fact from the ending of this episode as I describe below the spoiler line.

Performance of the night goes to Amy Manson for that lovely final scene. The reason to watch this episode is that final scene. Can’t really say more here.

Overall rating: 6/10. I took off big time points for overt and explicit telling of thematic material. Otherwise known as moralizing. Thematic material should always be shown. This is a HUGE flaw that a writer should never ever fall into, but seems to happen occasionally in Once. It happened several times this episode. It grieves me to post a less than glowing report for Once, but my integrity would be suspect if I didn’t tell it as I see it. And I can’t have that.

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

Scene 1: Where do you want to go?

Opening Image: Camelot under blue skies. We can see the difference between the two episodes clearly from just their opening images. Last episode was about darkness. This one is not.

Wound licking and stung pride. The uneasy partnership between Zelena and Arthur continues.

Scene 2: Wish you were here.

Here’s a nice example of shown exposition. We now know what happened after Brave and we got an excuse to have a character speaking their thoughts aloud, which is rarely plausible. Unless you write yourself a character who chronically talks to themselves.

Scene 3: Never agree to an open ended price. Not ever.

That’s Once’s very own moral of the story.

From the appearance of the contract, I thought for a moment that the witch was Rumplestiltskin masquerading.

Must say, I don’t like the rather sudden tonal switchback that happens in this scene. Fergus breaks into the witches home and threatens her, then, after all the intense music, meekly asks for help. Artificial tension is a cheap trick and it isn’t even terribly funny, the only way to excuse a device like this in my book. This, to me is camp, and not in a good way.

The Witch, I must point out, gives and excellent performance in this scene. She’s a treasure I hope to see more of. And, I really like her style of magic. Less hand waving, more chemistry. No less glee.

Scene 4: Pay up

I love how Merida is leaning on her elbows on her throne while her mother is sitting up, eager. We don’t know enough about her yet to explain this posture, but it tells us she is not terribly impressed with the presenter, or perhaps the entire ceremony. Something she wants over with??

Except to get through the door. Ha, ha. I really like this lady.

And she charges interest.

I can’t say this witch is evil, per se, she just strikes me as if she’s playing a truly magnificent joke on Merida, payment for spites past?

Scene 5: Whereisit???

It seems like this episode has just adopted the format of a procedural: find the killer, save the day. I do, after all, watch Once to get away from procedurals.

Scene 6: Cat-calls…

Never ok.

A note about bows. That’s what’s called a recurve. And no functional bow has a string that loose. Just a thought. At least she doesn’t dry fire it, I was afraid she would. That can shatter the bow and leave the archer full of very unpleasant splinters. At the least.

I do love this reveal of Mulan, who kicks Merida’s arse. Deservedly. At least Merida laughs.

Here’s some of that explicit thematic exposition that should never happen. Mulan says straight up that she’s going to teach her to fight with honor. There’s no reason this can’t be buried in subtext or demonstrated later in the episode. There’re plenty of fights that happen in which Mulan could have shown Merida what was what.

Scene 7: So much better with a sword than Charming

And some more naked thematic material. This scene is a prime reason for the loss of points.

Mulan has fallen off the wagon. I am delighted to see her, by the way.

Scene 8:  No one out-witches me!

More barging in… Rude much?

Might be line of the night: Tell me or you go bobbing for eye of newt!

I like to call these glue scenes: a scene in which vital information is presented but little to no action occurs. This one is saved by Rebecca Mader‘s vinegar.

Scene 9: Ineffective glue scene, naked thematic material. ARGH!!!

Merida finds the cloak bit and Mulan whines. If you can write such a line for Zelena a scene ago, this could have gone MUCH better.

Scene 10: Smarter, not harder.

At least here, we are in student mode so there is some reason for Mulan to be explicit about thematic material.

Scene 11: Terrible ruler.

Definitely following procedural format…

Largely exposition with a thematic reveal.

Merida’s performance here is admirable.

Scene 12: Why not? You have.

Merida has a crisis of faith and gives up on herself. Mulan, seeing a mirror to her own situation, is pulled up also by trying to help her friend.

See, here’s where it works. They didn’t need all that naked thematic material earlier. We saw Mulan being dishonest with those dudes in the tavern over whiskey. We already know that’s not who we remember her to be from the time we’ve already spent with her. In that scene, Merida needed to frown at her and ask her why she’s picking bar fights. Mulan could snarl, “Drop it.” Or something more clever. Next scene, Mulan tells Merida to ignore the sexist boys, they lack honor, and to not use violence when words and leadership are called for. That’s honor and would have served the same purpose. No nudity problems at all. Way more interesting and thematically dense.

Hence the loss of points.

What happened in this episode?? Why such clumsy missteps?

Great line from Mulan: Those lords can’t even find the pointy end of their spears!

Side note, this is how to mount a tall horse without flashing the camera. Lower the stirrup.

Scene 13: Advice from Dad

For me this is the turning point in this episode. Here we have a truly and deeply relatable moment. Who hasn’t asked Dad for advice? This scene drips subtext in steaming fat drops. It works so well because we know in this scene what Fergus knows, and what Merida knows.

We can also relate to Fergus here, who hasn’t wished they had way better advice for themselves when they are considering doing something iffy?

I stopped groaning about this episode here, at the midpoint and started paying attention.

Scene 14: Barge or sneak?

YAY!!!!! Ruby!

Did Mulan just give the woman on top of her a steamy look? Oo!

Scene 15: Girl in wolf’s clothing

Jamie Chung did a great job with this rather heartrending moment.

I don’t mind this walk and talk because we have missed Ruby so very much. I really want to know what happened to her.

Scene 16: Strangely satisfying

For a scene which is about one third rehash, it works VERY well.

I do love what Mary Margaret says here about doing what makes you happy. That’s obviously a theme near and dear to my heart. My heart also soared at the mention of Tiny and the bean fields. We haven’t seen him in a while and I really enjoyed him too.

Scene 17: Mulan remembers who she is

A nice little glue scene which works because it has emotional motion forward.

Scene 18: Sniff him out.

I don’t have too much respect for Merida’s (the writer’s) decision to dangle a crown in order to make someone do what they should do anyway. MacIntosh should have been sent to go save the kingdom for nothing more than honor and glory. No bribe required. Finding a bobble isn’t proof of ability to lead.

Scene 19: Dad put you up to it.

Talk about a stinging betrayal. Dad says he believes in you, then pulls crap like this.


Scene 20: Bagpipes in the morning

I love that sound. I also love that we get to see a pitched battle on Once. This is really rare.

I am pleased so far that Once hasn’t reduced Scottish culture to a savage caricature.  Pipes were instruments of war and not once has Once pulled that tired honking bagpipes gag. I get so tired of people being told to hate the sound of bagpipes. Yes, they are loud, and sure they’re tough to tune. But it’s like telling people that opera is terrible. If people expect to hate something, they are less likely to make their own opinions.

Bagpipes are a wonderfully unique instrument and beautiful to hear when well played. Don’t be a sheep, make up your own mind about whether you like their sound or not. Stepping off the soap box now.

Not knowing what was coming, I found this speech stirring even if I thought the reaction to it was compelled by magic. Upon later review, it is a stirring speech, all by itself, but the mislead here is brilliant.

Scene 21: Not going to miss this

Oh Arthur, you are really a gross dude. Grave robbing is only good in video games.

Scene 22: Not what we thought.

That doesn’t belong to you.

This is a nice reveal and emotionally charged. Merida thought her dad was a cheating scoundrel, now she knows differently.

Scene 23: I blame you!

Nice bit of swashbuckling.

Scene 24: How do you like it now, witch?

Teamwork pays off and Ruby gets her payback.

Scene 25: Sleeping on the job

Those good for nothing lords decided to come through after all.

Yes, being willing to make a sacrifice for the good of your subjects is good leadership. Bribing your subjects to do what they should do anyway is not.

Got to be careful kneeling in a kilt.

Scene 26: Satisfied customers

I do very much like the witch. She works for herself and keeps her bargains. So she turned Ruby into a lapdog, but we don’t really know why.

But, again with the naked thematic material. We don’t need to be told that the witch showed Merida what leadership is. Oh please. We already figured that out.

Here’s where Once needs to make a decision and stick with it. Children need that kind of thing to be more overt. Adults don’t. I surely hope they decide to spend their time, our time, making adult worthy fiction because I just don’t find children’s programming interesting very often.

Scene 27: Yes, I think that disqualifies you.

It wouldn’t be honorable for me to keep this.


Do not write lines like that.

All Mulan has to say is: “Here. And thanks.”

We all know what for!!

But, Ruby’s invitation to get Mulan to quit wallowing and frankly the rest of this little gal chat moment are nicely executed.

Scene 28: Don’t waste that!!

Also, I would have thought drinking it would have been the ticket to seeing the dead.

I’ll be honest here. This episode needs a lot of help. But this last scene had me in tears for quite some time. You can read more about why in Once and the Currency of Pain.

This scene has a universal quality that touches so deeply. It reaches out to something fundamental, to what it means to be human. It means we miss the dead, and what we wouldn’t give for some ale. We all hope that our parents, grandparents, teachers et cetera, would be proud of us and we want so badly to hear them say it to us, just one more time. It is beautifully performed and even frank in its thematic material, it works because it is wearing the disguise of something that can never happen in real life.

It is for this scene that Manson gets performance of the night.

Who do you wish was still here?


You can tell I had a tough time with this episode. It ran hot and cold to me. I loved seeing Merida, Mulan and Ruby together on adventure. That was great. I really loved Merida’s chat with her dad. Also great. I’m just not sure how all that naked thematic material made it out of the editing room though. Yikes!!

This seems to be this seasons Family Business. Oy.

Ah well, can’t hit it out of the park every time and there’s been quite a bit of that recently.

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

Birth 5X08

Birth: 5X08

Overview: spoiler-free

What a ride. After Birth (the episode, awkward!!), I sat still for quite a few minutes even though I knew I had another episode available and waiting on iTunes for me. I needed a moment to settle down. I don’t envy those who watched it live because they didn’t get that processing time. Please see Once and the Currency of Pain for more in that subject.

But on to the overview. Talk about unexpected. I delight in Once’s ability to really, genuinely surprise me. As you’ve probably gathered by now, I pay close attention to how fiction works so surprises tend to be fairly rare for me when watching movies and most television. But I have to hand it to Once. I did not see this one coming, not even close!!!

Performance of the week goes to Jennifer Morrison by the skin of her teeth. Robert Carlyle is our runner up tonight because his scene is exposition, and that’s probably the only reason. He gives a dazzling performance even while delivering to us a reminder of something we’ve seen before. How much harder is it to make a rehash sparkle than to just open the floodgates in a dramatic scene? But Morrison is something special and earned this distinction, as you will see below.

Rating: 9/10. Pacing is an issue, increasingly so it seems. I really want to slow down and spend some time with these characters, with these emotions. Things need to soak in. In one scene we get this, but the rest feels like running a race. Watching this episode made me feel emotionally out of breath. Thrilling, yes, but I need to linger with all of this.

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

Scene 1: Liar, liar.

Opening image: truck headlights in the gloom. This is a promising start and metaphorically lovely.

It is nice to see Hook and Robin working together with David. I have high hopes for a friendship between Robin and Hook. It would be a good use of both of these characters.

Scene 2: Friend?

Arthur and Guinevere both know something about Nimue. And yet they only go after Arthur. How short sighted. I wonder how Arthur justifies to himself calling David friend while he does a good deal of sneaking behind his back. Arthur’s moral fiber is already a known quantity, but how did he fall into such disrepair since the hopeful child of years ago?

David needs to work on his gun pointing skills, no wonder Arthur decided to run. Even not knowing much about guns, David is telegraphing his uncertainty about shooting Arthur and fails to intimidate.

Scene 2a: He’s getting away!

Where’s Robin during this chase?

Speaking of telegraphing, I wonder if the trip hazard would have been a little less predictable if they had only showed us the log the instant Arthur tripped. But the low angle camera from the log as he approached gave it away for me in a way I don’t think I needed. Besides which, I was thinking about them tripping from the second they started running because tent stakes, ropes and darkness are a hazard any camper knows all too well.

But, lesson here Hook, never pause to gloat over your fallen enemy if they aren’t dead or unconscious. It goes badly. Every time.

Strange how Hook doesn’t think his hook can block a sword strike, though we’ve seen him do it before. Also, how about Emma’s spying techniques? She shows up in the knick of time, we don’t actually know how she keeps such close tabs on Hook.

I do love the obsessed gleam in Arthur’s eyes here, before Emma swats him into a tree. Crumpled heap much?

Yes, you should apologize Hook. I realize you have your limitations, but what you said on that ship was PAINFUL.

Hook’s demonstration that he is beginning to understand the curse is crucial to the ending of this episode, for Hook and for us.

I have a special affection for Hook. This guy was happy following his brother and then he had to step into shoes he wasn’t ready for, a chronic and seemingly repeating pattern in his life. Hook  always seems just a little out of his depth. His confidence exceeds his skill set over and over again. He taunts and bullies a lame spinner who had the courage to ask him to do the right thing on the deck of his ship. He then looses everything when that same spinner comes back as the Dark One to get him to answer for his crime. He loses his love and ends up the guest of Peter Pan for the next few hundred years. Later he goes back after the Dark One unsuccessfully (on multiple occasions) nearly to his demise, only luck saves this guy. And Belle. Among more recent foolhardy endeavors, he tries to manipulate Rumple, the master manipulator, to get his hand back. Talk about bringing a toy hook to a gun fight… Again Belle steps in and is the only reason Hook is still sucking down oxygen.

It shouldn’t be a great surprise, then, that it takes him some time to figure out what Belle figured out in short order: the nature of the Dark One’s curse. Yes, Emma is still in there, just like the good man Rumple used to be is not entirely gone. Corruption and distortion though, are in progress.

Hook has decided, now that he understands, to go after what matters to him: Emma. Perhaps this is why I adore Hook as I do. He is singly focused and persistent in his aim no matter the odds and no matter how far outclassed he is. This tenacity, when coupled with a big heart (which he had to work hard to find after having lost it for a good long while), makes Hook truly endearing. And it’s good advice too. Persistence will get a person far in this life.

I can only imagine the depths of Emma’s pain here. She was counting on Hook to love her even as the Dark One and that day on his ship, he couldn’t accept her. And then she tells us she’s doing it for him.

Dun, dun DUN!!! What happened in Camelot???

I still haven’t forgiven the memory wipe… but they are using that device for everything it is worth.  It must have been a difficult decision to decide to reuse something knowing (to the extent of having Mary Margaret say explicitly) that the audience was going to groan. I think Once is counting on our patience and forgiveness here, that it will all be worth it. Sounds like what Emma just told Hook.

Scene 3: Title card = who’s that???

The throwback to Season 1 with that key is wonderful.

Exposition… Arthur has your family, yadda yadda, surrender or else.

Props to Jared Gilmore and Beverly Elliot for holding so still during that long speech of Merlin’s.

Scene 4: Not important anymore.

Now I know David is a few crayons short of a full box, but what Arthur knows about Nimue seems OBVIOUSLY important and it seems equally obvious that he does know something. Frankly, letting Hook interrogate Arthur a while longer might have been helpful. But insulting Arthur’s pride definitely felt smug.

I appreciate that Once is consistent in writing David’s lack of wit, going so far as to get Cruella to insult him explicitly about it. “If only your wits matched your looks…”

Well, we can’t have everything now can we. And Josh Dallas does a great job with his charge.

Mary Margaret, surprisingly, says something insightful. It might not be Emma anymore. We just saw the evidence Hook did, but Mary Margaret has very good reason to doubt that Emma hasn’t been completely subverted by the darkness. After all, they all saw Rumple’s black heart and know what was happening to him. They don’t know that Emma didn’t drown entirely. Except Hook, now, because he has evidence to the contrary.

I feel bad for Regina here, too. She gave up on Emma and she’s defending against that hurt with a classic show of Evil Queen bravado. She gives a very logical rebuttal to Hook’s emotional argument, which of course doesn’t work, but pragmatically speaking, Regina has the right of it.

And we get our Emma back.

Scene 5: Atonement

This shot of the old cash register and Rumple’s hand (wedding ring) with that snow globe is drenched in subtext and metaphor. Rumple is taking a trip to the past in his mind. I didn’t fully appreciate this tiny shot before, but it seems hugely important to this scene now.

He and Belle have been back in the shop for maybe five minutes since they left Emma’s place. But they’re not talking, not doing something else less G-rated either. This is the first moment Rumple has had to consider what has befallen him, his past and what to do next. He isn’t sure. He’s taking a deep dive into memory here. I haven’t figured out the significance of the snow globe aside from it representing memories though it is a call back to the Snow Queen. The scene continues in this vein with lovely symmetry between Carlyle’s performance and the thematic material at hand.

Just as we would expect, Hook barges into the shop demanding the Crocodile give him answers.

Oh Hook…

But it is that amazing look of anguish on Rumple’s face that makes this scene sing. We see in this tiny fraction of a moment how much that little name calling hurts the man Rumple is now. This is regret, deep and searing. Rumple murmurs, “Haven’t you heard? I’m not that man anymore.”

(It would be fair to point out that we shouldn’t assume we know what Rumple regrets. He might regret not being the Crocodile anymore though it is more likely that he is regretting any number of heinous acts he committed while he was the Crocodile.)

This look, and it is SO brief, sells what he is about to tell Hook. Want to know what Emma is up to? Figure out what she’s atoning for.

I do love that Belle waits for Rumple to be willing to talk to Hook before lowering the crossbow. If Hook had been there to hurt Rumple, I suspect Belle would have shot him.

The interaction and flow of this scene go miles toward showing us what his happening in Rumple’s head. He didn’t sneer at Hook for his multiple insults and barbs and he just gave him the information. No deals, no coercion, no threats. Not even any reluctance.

Instead we see shame when Hook jabs at him about the cleverness of Dark Ones who can fake real change. Rumple’s in pain right now, a lot of pain.

Now Hook, here, is actually taking a leap of faith. In spite of his rudeness, bluster really, he is taking a chance that Rumple, even after everything, might help him. He’s suspicious of him, rightfully so, but hopeful.

Hook needs to believe that Rumple has changed. That is Hook’s only hope of getting his Emma back. If Rumple is still as dark as he was, well… Hook’s out of luck. So he goes to test the waters.

As for Rumple and Belle, they have so much work to do I suspect neither of them knows where to start and they really haven’t managed to get out of duck and cover mode long enough to even think about it yet. Hence the crossbow greeting.

Talk about a hugely thematically dense scene. Wow!!

Where’s Gold’s eye make up??

Stolen Snowglobe Once Season 5 Birth
Stolen Snowglobe

Scene 6: A tiny scene in which Hook steps outside Gold’s shop, shouts, talks to himself and apparently, steals the snow globe. Didn’t notice that on the first pass.

Scene 7: I need to use one last time…

I just can’t get over Carlyle’s brilliance in this scene. Rumple, DO (Dark One) is so juicy. Mocking is definitely Rumple, DO’s color. His imitation, mockery, of Merlin is sincerely priceless. It drips derision. What I find so hilarious is that Carlyle doesn’t just execute a flawless imitation of Merlin’s rather sophisticated accent, though we all know he’s capable. Instead he chooses a lower class accent, was that almost Cockney??? My one regret would be that the camera is focused on Emma while he does this. Could we have seen them both in focus for this and just been allowed to ping-pong our eyes back and forth between them?

“Well prove it then, dearie.” Honestly, this sounds tonally, straight out of Mrs. Doubtfire.

We have this tiny little scene of, let’s face it, exposition, but this might be scene of the night and performance of the night in one. Mr. Carlyle shows us his incredible range not only in this scene, but when compared to his previous scene as well. It is hard to believe that Rumple is played by the same man as Rumple, DO. They are so different. In fact, this may be the most brilliant piece of exposition I have scene, maybe ever. And it is all for Carlyle’s performance. Somehow, I can sense Carlyle’s enjoyment of his work even through the mask of Rumple, DO. This scene has a playful quality and Carlyle’s eyes light up, contacts and all.

I can’t leave this scene without expressing my adoration over how Emma jumps (as do we) at Rumple, DO’s, “LIGHT IT!!!”

He yells and I have to wonder if Morrison was really startled. She recovered quickly enough to respond, but it almost seems like this might be a case of Carlyle making an unexpected choice with his lines which scares Morrison for real. This scene is cut together, but Morrison’s startlement could easily be from take one in which she was genuinely surprised.

Henry’s line, “I’ve got something to show you,” isn’t needed. He could have just said, “Here,” waited, and then gone on to describe the project.

Scene 8: What are you going to do?

I wonder about the merit of splitting this scene into chunks. All that is accomplished here is a bit of posturing. Could we have cut from Emma and Henry directly to Zelena? Yes, Zelena threatening Emma gives a nice link between the two scenes, but is that really necessary?

Scene 9: Never accept onion rings from the Dark One… like candy from strangers, but worse.

I love that Zelena is reading Hansel and Gretel to her fetus but with a distinctly different intonation from what we all heard as children. You can tell how much Gretel deserves to go in that oven… Thanks Rebecca Mader, this is wonderful.

Also, “Steady on!”

How charmingly British of her.

Please don’t ever let me wake up somewhere with Nurse Ratched looking in on me!

9b: Don’t just stare.

Aside from any excuse to see Nurse Ratched (Ingrid Torrance), marvelous that one, this reveal is nicely done.

Side note: we need a little timeline help. She’s only 2 months pregnant? So much has happened since Heroes and Villains that this timeline believability is stretched to the max. At times, Once moves forward in time less quickly than even 24. I believe we had an episode or two where time only moved forward (in Storybrooke) by about 5 minutes.

There’s a bit of a secret handshake that goes on between TV shows and viewers. It’s a sort of unwritten agreement in which a season of TV encompasses about a year in real life. The seasons kinda sorta match up and everyone ages more or less on schedule. Once has broken that little rule and has been stretching believability intensely. This works for adults and prop babies, but not for Jared Gilmore, whom is growing by leaps and bounds.

Scene 10: The hard way.

I find it fascinating that Emma says here she doesn’t need forgiveness. See later this episode how she really, really needs forgiveness.

Props to Morrison for letting us see that tiny piece of the Emma we remember when Hook tells her he changed for her.

And to Colin O’Donoghue for his dashing romantic hero moment when Hook tells Emma he loves her no matter what she did.

This scene, while thematic exposition, packs an emotional punch. This kind of stuff just can’t be rushed, and we got the time we needed here.

Scene 11: A view of the ocean.

Oh wow. O’Donoghue can emote with one eye closed and the other stuffed in a telescope. That is an awkward position for a face, and yet we know exactly what Hook is feeling in this moment.

Emma says, “Almost there, almost,” and we see hope in her eyes for the first time since she took on the curse. I believed, in that moment, that maybe she really hadn’t fallen, that she wasn’t that far gone.

Then this.

What did you DO???

Scene 12: Shut up!

Yes, they gave Robin another sappy line and Zelena nails him for it. Thank the gods!

Awesome, Sean Maguire, splendid. That look Robin gives Whale: revolted! Oh yes, that worked.

And then Whale puts on a glove before offering a handshake. Oh ICK! What a creepy, sleazy toad.

Fabulous interchange between Regina and Whale. Hilarious and some much needed comic relief ahead of what’s coming.

Scene 13: Who should I execute first?

The ribbon used to make Zelena fast to a tree looks like the dagger and Excalibur in design. Nice touch.

And Regina gives Emma a saucy, pleased look.

I find it interesting that Emma doesn’t differentiate Regina from the rest of her family. Same as Hook. Though Robin is there too. I am not sure how far Emma’s adoptive feelings extend, but the sentiment is a nice one.

Emma’s little duel with Merlin looks good. I have had reason to gripe about grainy special effects (green room groans), but lately, their technique with the appearance of magic has been spot on.

One thing that just doesn’t sit right about this scene: Emma can’t have planned for Hook to shimmy out of his hook ahead of time. That means that this victory is luck. The Dark One lays moaning on the ground and luck saves the day? I am sure she planned to manipulate Merlin into fighting the will of Excalibur, but if that was her end strategy, it wasn’t terribly fool proof.

Also, if Arthur can just rip those ribbons, Zelena shouldn’t have had too much trouble. Worse, Emma just stares as Arthur escapes while Hook stands there instead of giving him a good kick in the face. Which he should have done.

Scratching with the wrong hand. There are other mistakes not to be made with a hook for an appendage. O’Donoghue is in his element quipping and making eyes at the object of his affection. I do love watching him do this.

Rising music and CaptainSwan cuddling. Victory scenes don’t get much more warm and fuzzy than that.

Scene 14: Hook’s left hook.

Mini- exposition/transitional scene. That quip was necessary for us to be willing to put up with what we needed to know. These little scenes are annoying to write. There is a critical element that the audience needs to know to glue the pieces of the story together, but it is still a scene where nothing happens. The writers did a great job with this one though and I loved that cute moment between Hook and Henry.

Scene 15: You can’t lie to me

Regina loves her friend. This is such a big step for her and she says as much. Regina says she deeply knows Emma and admits how hard earned this was. This scene is heart wrenching. True to character, pragmatist Regina goes after the best lever she can find to save Emma. The dagger.

And I think she would have gotten there too, if not for pesky meddlesome Charmings and a certain intruding pirate.

Yes, it is wrong to abrogate the free will of another, but I have a hard time saying Regina was wrong in this scene. This action comes from a place of love, compassion and desperation. Regina can’t lose Emma. She is her only true friend. Little moments like this one show us that the Regina we met in Season 1 is still the Regina we are looking at now. This is a case of believable change because we can still see Regina’s baser instincts coming to the surface in trying times.

Emma gives Hook the dirty look, not Regina. Important, that.

Scene 16: It’s a Girl!!

16b: Poor Regina!!

16c: Two telling things about this scene.

One, Robin says “I” have a daughter. Not “we” have a daughter. I think this is the reason Regina hesitates when she approaches Robin. That one little statement puts Regina on notice that no matter how close she thought she was with Robin, he does not consider this her child.


Zelena can’t help but get in that little barb.

And Emma throws Whale into a wall for no real reason, just because. I always have a flicker of guilt over finding violence funny, but that was hilarious.

I like the billowing sheets left behind after Emma poofs Zelena away.

Scene 17: Smarter than Arthur

Of course Emma chains Hook by the ankle.

Mader brilliantly plays Zelena’s conflicting emotions here: she’s understandably upset about being separated from her newborn, but she admires Emma for this darkness. She just can’t help herself. Lovely!

Now we know. Emma has lost it. She’s been planning a murder. I still don’t think it’s her first. Maybe she did Merlin. I had hoped against the evidence that she was still fighting the darkness as in Camelot. But it has seeped deeply into her and it colors her thoughts. Just like Rumple.

At this point, I thought that Emma’s plan would be the biggest reveal for this episode. Joke’s on me.

Scene 18: The future is nothing to be afraid of. No foreshadowing here, nuh-uh.


Do I need to say more about this scene?

Oh yes, I love Hook’s replacement for that leather jacket he had in Season 2. Mid 18th Century fashion is just about my favorite. The long coat with skirting and tight pants, looks great on men and women alike. Oh yeah. 

Scene 19: No one hurts my sister but me

Oh please, Mary Margaret. What do you think Regina is going to do?

To be fair, I’m sure it crossed Regina’s mind to do nothing and just solve a whole lot of problems. I suspect this is more about Emma than Zelena.

Scene 20: Boy Toy

Making a deal with Zelena.

Foreshadowing. Oh zounds, that’s some foreshadowing.

“You’ve got magic?”- Zelena

“No, my hook does.”- Hook


Scene 21: Why she gave me the dagger.

Oh gag. Mary Margaret is really intolerable. I want to see Regina make her stand back.

“This is not the way, Miss Swan, and you know it.”

Perhaps the line of the night, only to be topped by:

“Well, start acting like Emma again and we’ll talk.”

What the heck did Emma just do with Excalibur???

Scene 22: Hope she doesn’t find you first.

This is another glue scene. Necessary for continuity, but nothing happens. No real problem with that, but it does make me wonder every time I see a scene like this how they might have disguised it a little better.

Scene 23: Stabbed with a set of garden sheers.

I told Emma she needed to trim that nasty vine she’s got out back.

Now talk about effective show versus tell. My adoration for Mader continues to grow. The lady is effective, end of story.

Speaking of effective, this scene transition is nicely done.

Scene 24: Our future is now

Emma’s final step into the dark? I’m still holding out for a murder, but we shall see.

I was holding my breath in this scene even though I know Hook survives. Somehow, in the moment I was wondering if Once was finally going to kill someone in a painful, splashy way such as this. And I was hoping for it. Not because I want Hook to die, I assure you I don’t, but because I wanted that grit of reality which Once shies away from at times. A lot of times.

Yes, they gave us a beautiful death for Baelfire. But I am starting to be a believer in poking the audience where it hurts when it is appropriate to do so. Game of Thrones has proven to me that it is possible to continue to tell a compelling story even if you kill your characters, even kill a lot of your characters. That would hurt. That would hurt a lot for Once. But a meaningful, plot driven death is a beautiful thing.

But Hook survives this scene.

Note about Morrison: fabulous performance. She’s got chops and no mistake.

Scene 25: Not enough for me.

Same note for Morrison here. After much deliberation, Morrison gets performance of the night by a nose for this scene. This got tears from me. It is clear to me that Morrison was deep in that moment herself and consequently so was Emma and so were we. Well earned, Ms. Morrison, well earned.

I admire Hook’s bravery here. Gallantry in the positive form of that word. He knows himself and here he listens to himself as he should have done many times before. He is right to refuse the darkness.

But I am not sure that it is only the darkness in Emma that makes her do this.

Scene 26: Too late.

Notice that the magic coming out of Merlin is indeed dark magic.

Scene 27: Final step?

After Hook disappears, Emma transforms into what we have seen in Storybrooke of the Dark Swan.

Truth, I didn’t notice that until this rewatching of the scene. I was so focused on the emotion of what just happened that I utterly missed this visual cue. I think that might be because I have habituated to seeing Emma this way in Storybrooke and this scene is quite short.

Note: what happen to the golden scales we saw on her hand early this season???

Scene 28: Birth

Speaking of special effects that I love, this is one of them.

Scene 29: I did not have a choice

Great transition back to the present, by the by.

Glamor spell. It makes sense now why Hook might have recognized the markings on Excalibur and spoke up before Belle when they first discovered it in the stone in Emma’s basement. Perhaps a part of him felt drawn to it, even then.

How could you do this to me? Well, Hook, she’s the Dark One.

Theory: Upon the return of his memories, Hook turns on Emma within seconds. A few explanations come to mind. First, he succumbed to the darkness before leaving Camelot which means it has returned to his conscious mind now. Though he has had, for now, no change in appearance. The second explanation is that the rage over Emma’s betrayal tipped him over right then and there. Emma just made him the thing he hates the most. A crocodile.

Also, I am glad they decided to keep Zelena, she’s a first class baddy. Nice work, consistently, Mader.


Wow! Am I right? That one hurt. What will Hook and Zelena cook up for Emma? Regina and the Charmings are right outside the door and we still don’t know what that glowing light around Emma’s house does. Also, we’re going to have to have a conversation about snow globes.

What impresses me most about this episode is that I in no way ever expected Hook to end up a Dark One. The convolutions of this storyline keep twining around each other and winding all over the place. It reminds me of walking a labyrinth. I keep thinking we are headed toward the center, and then we come around another corner and are taken somewhere else entirely. I love it!

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

Nimue 5X07

Nimue: 5X07

Once is on fire! Anyone else notice how Once seems to be pulling out all the stops? This first half the season is SO different than the beginning of Season 4. There’s nowhere to hide; don’t close your eyes.

Performance of the night goes to Jennifer Morrison, hands down, no question, no runners up, it’s hers. You’ll see! I was sitting there with my mouth hanging open.

Overall Rating: 9/10 for small moments, no larger missing chunks here. Cohesive and solid, this episode moved forward like a freight train passing Amtrak. This episode took place mainly in the past and my previous feelings that little ever gets done in the past are evaporating. I haven’t forgiven another memory wipe yet, but I have to concede that this new flavor of flashbacks is effective, more so with each passing episode.

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

Scene 1: History Lesson

Opening Image- Emma’s house at night, probably not more than five minutes after Belle, Rumple and Merida departed.

I wasn’t expecting us to start in the present day given the ending of the last episode and I’m not even convinced we needed this scene at all. With The Broken Kingdom, Once proved to us that it can keep our attention in a flashback about characters we barely know from the opening image. So why ask Rumple, DO (Dark One) to gin up some expository narration? Carlyle is great at it, no question, but could we have better spent this time in another scene?

On the other hand, seeing Emma with both halves of Excalibur does bring us back to the tension of the last episode’s ending scene.

Scene 2: Where we could have started

This lens flare is beautiful! This could have been our opening image, but it isn’t dark. Probably why this is Scene 2.

They wouldn’t dare what Merlin??

I tried, several times, but I can’t understand what he said. Garbled dialogue is no good most of the time. At least here, his actual words aren’t too important- I hope!- because what is intelligible is that they were being pursued, but no longer.

I do love his unnamed companion’s graceless heap of a fall into the sand. Face first. Nice.

Sensitive topic ahead, I will try to be gentle with everyone! Mother always told me to never discuss in public three things: sex, religion and politics. Here’s two out of the three.

Christian iconography: the Holy Grail.

We knew getting into Arthurian legend that Christianity was a big part of it, but Once hasn’t delved too deeply into religion yet. They say gods, emphasis on plural, for expletive phrases and discussion and there have, to date, been no Storybrooke indications of the celebration of Christian holidays (or other religious holidays from other faiths unless you want to get into the history of Valentine’s Day). I am holding my breath here to see if they retain their fantasy screen of religious quasi neutrality.

The cup has a Celtic looking cross-like ornamentation on it, but it is so stylized that it might not be symbolic of Jesus’s cross.

Of note, I know that cursed Storybrooke had nuns and that Mary Margaret wore a crucifix for a time, but Christianity is part of our world just like cars and computers are so it could have been just the curse authenticity (no offense intended here).

In my personal opinion, the religious neutrality of Once is important to maintain because as it is now, it is inclusive of everyone. The Once universe isn’t the territory of any (modern? see later discussion) Earth religion so everyone can come to the party no matter where in the world they are or what they personally believe. If Once puts a religious flag in the ground, everyone not that  religion has to grit their teeth and decide if they want to continue to watch of not for fear of offense.

Once fans are a diverse group, a quality definitely to be celebrated as this world badly needs space where everyone can put aside what separates us and smile together. All I have to do is look at the map of hits on this blog and, the record of what people are reading, to know that Once is touching the world! Check it out.

Make Happiness Blog Viewers World Map
Make Happiness Blog Viewers World Map

Please, Once writers, let Once remain a neutral space for everyone!

*Backing away, hands in the air.*

Interestingly, Merlin doesn’t think he is worth the notice of the gods. Then his buddy goes up in smoke. Ick!

Then he asks permission. Rather an abrupt change in attitudes toward the gods.

Granted, and he gives gratitude.

Theory: The question remains about the nature of the gods, or if indeed the Grail was even created by the gods, or maybe someone not that unlike Merlin who can install power into objects, see the future, and specify who can nab the prize.

This moment where Merlin realizes he has magic is a beautiful one.

Scene 3: Fuzzy on the details

Hook mouths off to a powerful sorcerer, again… How is he still living???

Good thing Merlin’s a patient guy.

Exposition: get me the sword and maybe I can free Emma.

Scene 4: Title Card Error per Horowitz on Twitter, should have been 500 years ago.

Then he says it, what we’ve all been thinking: not all wizards have long white beards.


Vortigen? Are you sure you didn’t mean Voldemort? Sorry.

A beautiful beginning for this love story.

Scene 5: Flame of Prometheus

Man-kind’s original fire. And now we know. Merlin leans toward the Greek Pantheon. Have a little read here. Neutrality through antiquity? It seems possible. I guess we’ll have to see.

Emma is the most powerful Dark One ever… no pressure.

Scene 6: Working My Way Back to You Babe

It is actually for this scene that this episode lost a point. This scene feels both rushed and superfluous at the same time. The only new material from this scene is Hook’s ring. To be honest, he doesn’t tell us enough about it emotionally or verbally to give it enough of a punch to carry the scene.

I was left with a “that’s nice, he gave her a trinket,” feeling, but no urgency here. Bummer.

Scene 7: He sounds awful.

Great line.

I just love that Merlin stores the Grail with other stuff in a junk drawer… Nimue says it so well.

This scene between two characters we barely know has ten times the romance of the previous scene even though, or maybe because it is largely exposition. This is new ground for us and thus draws the story forward.

Then I worried I’d been wrong in my theory about the identity of the Dark One who trapped Merlin in a tree. Masked Creep isn’t Nimue.

Scene 8: Have fun storming the castle boys

A blue print for Camelot on a placemat from Granny’s diner. Another great giggle from a prop.

Thank you SO much Rebecca Mader. Her non-verbal expression carries this scene. Take away a tool, and creativity is born. Silence is golden and should be used more often in film.

The comedy of this scene continues keeps on rolling when perhaps the most dull person in the room, poor Charming (Josh Dallas executes his character’s lack of wit with mastery), mocks Zelena who is talking sense. As she tells us straight up.

I want my magic back.

Regina, you can’t seriously be considering that…

Scene 9: Worse than being in my cell

At least they are starting to acknowledge Mary Margaret’s capacity for being irritating. May as well use it to good effect, as done here.

I get that men think swords before ladies, but seriously? The first person into the tunnel should have been the wizard. Obviously. She can handle so much more mayhem than the three of you combined it’s not even funny!

Scene 10: Bad trip with magical acid

Ok, so Merlin’s workbench has a protection spell too? A friend of mine was highly critical of this scene for inconsistencies with how acid might actually behave. Also, they’ve only got just one ladle. Not the most efficient disbursal mechanism. This contributed as a little thing toward the loss of a point for this episode.

Scene 11: Confessing sins

The darkness is winning, but is there hope?

Scene 12: If I use magic to kill…

Here’s where my query about Emma’s first murder becomes important. I sensed that it was the act of murder that played a vital role in losing the battle against darkness and it seems I was right.

Scene 13: Don’t spill!

Waiting for the other shoe.

Scene 14: Are you in pain?

Not as much as you’re about to be in… Not too hard to trick Mary Margaret. Regina should have known better than to leave her alone with Zelena.

Scene 15: Oops.

Merlin makes a couple of serious mistakes here. He could have whisked Nimue away from Vortigen before anything bad happened. Was he in shock? He’s had enough time with magic to know that Vortigan poses no obstacle.

Theory: Second, why didn’t he just heal Nimue? Rumple always tell us that all magic comes with a price. Healing Robin started Emma’s slide toward the dark and not taking a price had rather dire consequences. Is this a reference to a rule they haven’t quite explained? That life and death magic is EXTREMELY costly for those with powers linked to the Grail?

Scene 17: The end of Prometheus’s theft

Notice that the Celtic ironwork has fallen away into ruin in the present. Nice parallel photography here creating a link to the past while exposing the differences between these scenes.

Theory: the origin of dark magic could be the vengeance Nimue intended when she drank from the Grail.

Oh that reveal!!

Effective even though we already suspect the truth. And what an amazing makeup job!

Now I see the green elements I had wondered about in Rumple’s makeup job. I had wondered if he appeared rather green because of the green room or if it was a makeup choice. Sometimes he appears grey or silver also, rather than gold. I had theorized that that this was a makeup choice to reflect the corruption of the curse. An aged and tarnished metal finish for an aged and tarnished character. But I still wonder how much of that is lighting and what he looks like in real life. Now we see elements of all three colors in Nimue. Has the nature of the curse mutated over time?

Scene 18: You could have made a pair of scissors.

Proof of murder theory. Murder is the catalyst for the corruption of magic.

This scene is terribly sad and beautifully played.

There are some metaphoric issues with this scene which I may choose to write about outside this review depending on how events unfold. The crux of them being the origin of the writer’s decision to have Nimue fall into darkness because of being unable to resist the temptation of power and vengeance. This could be an echo of the Lady of the Lake mythos or even Pandora. There could even be a third option, or all three, or none. This is a prime example of an analytical pitfall. If you look at something too closely, reality can start to distort, the big picture can get lost. Rather than post preliminary thoughts on this, I will consider it distortion for now and move on.

Scene 19: The power you have I don’t need.

Performance of the night goes to Jennifer Morrison. You can see in that moment, and you don’t need me to tell you which it is, a hasty camera adjustment of the close up to catch this moment of truth. The last time I saw something like this was in Battlestar Galactica regarding a certain model ship which it is fortunate they insured.

Oh wow.

This scene so enthralled me that I found myself holding my breath. Intense! This scene goes directly to the leader board of the top ten best scenes in OUAT- I’ll be needing to make one of those when the show is over. I don’t yet know it’s exact ranking, but if a scene can leave me breathless after multiple views, it is something to write home about.

Scene 20: It’s all twisted up, but I felt it

A bit of falling action here, exposition which we really need after such an intense scene. A chance to catch our breaths.

I opted not to break this scene down into its sub-scenes because of its narrative cohesion. It’s a mini-montage-esque technique which gave this walk and talk the gentle movement it needed to reach beyond just straight exposition.

Scene 21: Artie’s manhood issues

Line of the night goes to Zelena: shorter sword than a man would like…

Half man with a half sword… LOL!!!!

And yes, Arthur also thinks David is a moron. MERLIN!

Scene 21b: Where’d he go?

It’s nice, even only for a moment to see what idle chit chat between powerful wizards would be if we only had the time to eavesdrop. What else would you chat about on the trail? Life isn’t all swords and sorcery after all.

Scene 21c: Coming when called

This is how convincing villains are made. Merlin makes a terrible mistake confiding in Arthur because Arthur’s delusions of grandeur corrupted him. Now we have and obsessed and insecure man grasping at power any way he can. Oops!

The maniacal gleam in Arthur’s eyes is magnificent. Merlin is now paying for his arrogance and righteousness again. He paid with Nimue and he’s paying now with Arthur. Merlin thinks he has much more control over the world than he actually does, and even he falls prey to what Rumple did with regards to seeing the future. He seems slightly better at it, but not much. He’s got a little more humility, but not enough. Power has gone to Merlin’s head too. Even if it hasn’t driven him to darkness, it has still blinded him.

Scene 22: Take the power

So now there is no Dark One dagger. No means to control Emma. Uh oh.


An episodes ago Merlin, via toad stool voicemail, told us that the only hope was Nimue. Hmm. Now we know Nimue is not only the original Dark One, but also in Emma’s head. I will be very interested to see now Nimue can help, if that’s even still true.

Intense much? I mean. Wow! So far this season I feel a bit like I’m strapped to a rocket and it’s getting uncomfortably warm underneath my backside. The pacing and sheer immediacy of this season are so far from the meandering during the Neverland arc of the stroll we took through Frozen territory last year. Once has us by our heartstrings and no mistake.

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