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TV Review: ‘Once Upon a Time’ Taking a Darker Turn

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After watching the latest Once Upon a Time episode, I tweeted that I thought the episode was the first I’d enjoyed in a long while, perhaps the entire season. Immediately, people reacted, wondering why, when the episode seemed full of plot holes, and narrative cheats I liked it. OnceUponATime_1213_624x351

Here, dear readers, are my reasons in no particular order:

Maleficent’s New Story and What It Means for Snow and Charming

I’m still not on board with the triple threat of Maleficent, Ursula and Cruella DeVil. (We can do without the 101 Dalmatians in the Enchanted Forest), but I love Maleficent, ranking her only second to Snow White’s Evil Queen in Disney Evil Witchiness. (The two classic Disney features that most freaked me out as a child were Snow White and Sleeping Beauty’s villains, but I digress.)

We’ve had Snow’s Evil Queen in our midst since the start in the delectable performance of Lana Parrilla, and now Maleficent has returned for all her flamboyant nastiness. But now, we learn that she, like Regina, had been done wrong by none other than that model of purity and goodness, Snow White! Hmm.

The story is pregnant (as it were) with possibilities, as we learn that Snow had long ago caused Maleficient to lose her own baby (if Mal is telling the truth, always a wild card, of course). And to hide this grave secret, Snow and Charming have slunk into a life of lies, deception and (in David’s case) drinking heavily. It’s as if the series creators Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis have finally realized that Snow and Charming are as interesting as beige wallpaper, and they’d better do something to spice them up. And now, it appears they have. Please, please, please, oh Powers That Be, keep on keepin’ on with this new darker side to Mr. and Mrs. Perfect.

Regina’s Struggle with Redemption

I love my main heroes and villains conflicted. And Regina has always waged an internal struggle between her natural tendency to wicked ways and her desire to be a good guy for her son (and someday, Robin Hood, her one true love). But now with her foes in town, she needs to deal with them, but can she do that and still keep to the more noble side of the line? We see this struggle brewing in her in this week’s episode, and long may it grow.

A Glimmer of Humanity in the Dark One’s Eye

It’s barely there, and as I’ve said both in the space, and on my radio show, I’ve really hated Rumplestiltskin this season. I don’t mind his going to the dark side, or even abandoning his desire to be good, but this sudden turn from being a conflicted villain to pure evil has not set well with me. It’s as if, for me, as a viewer–and fan of the character–I’ve had to completely abandon any inkling of my understanding of Rumplestiltskin (and Captain Hook, by the way). Any spark of humanity I’d perceived in him over the course of nearly four seasons had been a complete lie–and a waste of time in trying to “get” him. To understand the pain behind the action. He has embraced evil, power, and whatever else he may need to what? Get his happy ending? He had it, and blew it to smithereens. (End of Rant!)

But in this week’s episode, finally, finally, finally we see that he maybe, hopefully begins to understand the true consequences of his actions as he watches Belle kiss the Knave. For the first time in nearly a season, we see something from Rumple’s POV. This doesn’t make up for the narrative betrayal of the character, but it does suggest that perhaps all is not lost. Will Rumple see this kiss and begin to comprehend what he has done? Will it lead to his beginning to crawl out of the hole in which he’s found himself? I don’t know, and part of me doubts it, but the kiss and Rumple’s reaction must mean something. And I hold out a glimmer of hope that it will lead him (eventually) away from this path.

So, there you have it. Why I liked this week’s Once Upon a Time, plot holes and all. For this series to work for me any more, I really have to take each episode, each action and each strange addition to the cast of characters at face value. But I have to say, I like the plots and subplots of everyone using each other for their own agendas, laughing at the simplistic notion of “heroes” and “villains” hammered over and over over the past few episodes. It is clear from this week’s story, that the heroes are no heroes, and the villains may be bad, but they all may have a legitimate grievance against the pure-as-driven-snow good guys!

Once Upon a Time airs Sundays on ABC. Be sure to tune in every Tuesday night to my Blogtalk Radio show Let’s Talk TV. We’ll be talking more about Once Upon a Time, and also The Walking Dead, Black Sails, and more!

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • WML

    Haven’t watched a OUAT episode lately but last night’s ratings were not good. Maybe, the OUAT overlords bet wrong (that Captain Swann shippers will sustain them). They are wasting Carlyle and Parilla (to a lesser extent). It’s just not that good anymore. And the ratings reflect fan dissatisfaction that they probably did not expect, but the OUAT creators, in their malicious treatment of Bae/Neal and Rumple, fully deserve.

  • WML

    After watching “Enter the Dragon”, it is evident that the OUAT overlords want to fully destroy what was once their most intriguing character. Another poorly written, poorly conceived episode.

  • I really find Cruella to be so out of place that she’s a distraction from the rest of the story. I think it’s such a huge mistake to have her on the show. It was cute that Dr. Hopper (where is he these days) had a dalmatian named Pongo, but weaving a main character into the story is stupid I think. And did I see her using magic?

  • WML

    I think somebody should create a new show and cast Robert Carlyle as the lead character. He is a tremendous actor. He was superb in the early seasons of Once Upon a Time, until Horowitz and Kitsis decided to destroy the best character in their show. Rumple was OUAT’s greatest character, well played by the best actor in the cast. The series creators, for some inexplicable reason (actually, ratings and money), have decided to de emphasize great story telling and replace it with ships comprised of younger stars (Emma/Hook, Belle/Will) that at least for me, have very little appeal. They have made OUAT a soap opera. It is a dock for ships that Disney/ABC believes will bring a younger audience (primarily the shippers) to the fold. It is going to be interesting to see how OUAT ratings fare this last half of the season. I have steadfastly maintained that killing Neal/Bae was a mistake made for the expedience of the Emma/Hook ship. Making Rumple a one dimensional, cardboard evil character was made to create a new ship, the Belle and Will Scarlett pairing. A show that lacks integrity cannot hope to succeed in the long run. In my view, OUAT is fast approaching the realm of creative bankruptcy and the lack of character integrity is distressing. I’ve never seen a show move so heavy handedly to destroy one of its main assets as Horowitz and Kitsis have done with the Rumple character. I may yet be proven wrong, but this show has been creatively dead, for the most part, since the middle of the third season.

    I appeal to producers and writers out there. Create a great show for great actors such as Robert Carlyle and David Tennant, preferably here in America.

    I can’t believe the OUAT creators have not brought Meghan Ohry back to OUAT. I am sorely disappointed in this show. The first two and a half seasons of Once Upon a Time was great television. Now, it’s something that sits on the DVR. Perhaps, maybe sooner that later, it won’t even make it to the time machine.

    Carlyle was great in Stargate Stargate Universe. He was great in many a film. Leave it to Horowitz and Kitsis to relegate their greatest asset into a caricature of a character that no one really cares about. Well I do, and that’s why it’s sad to watch Rumple’s fate.

  • WML

    And as I posted on a previous thread, Rumple is not dead. Belle knows this. So what OUAT (and Disney) is saying is that although there is no divorce, it’s okay for Belle to be an adulterous harlot. And I’ve been pretty peeved in the way the overlords have destroyed the Belle/Rumple relationship, destroyed the Rumple character, and basically have given Robert Carlyle, their best actor, a raw deal.

    On the other hand, we missed you, Malificent! And Cruella is intriguing.

    I wonder if Disney’s Cinderella would end up being a two timing, spurned wife like Belle? It’s the new Disney. So anything goes.