Earlier this week, I posted an article in which I wondered whether Once Upon a Time was “freezing” out some of its core characters in favor of promoting its trip to Arendelle and its Frozen characters. This week’s episode “Rocky Road” spends nearly one-third of its run time in Arendelle, following Elsa’s story, with not one of the series core characters to be seen. Now, I am not one to tell showrunners how to produce their show. It’s not my show, nor my story. However, more and more I am hearing from long-time fans of Once Upon a Time who have no interest in Frozen, have never seen the animated movie, and feel that entirely too much time is spent on a story that is far from the show they fell in love with in season one.
There is some of the new season I like. I like the idea of a love triangle involving Robin Hood, Maid Marian, and Regina. I love even more the idea that she wants to find the writer to change the ending of her villain’s story. There is something of a grand heroic quest in that, and the fact she has enlisted Henry in her quest is lovely.
I also am intrigued by the Snow Queen (guest star Elizabeth Mitchell), and her insertion into the season four narrative would be quite cool (as it were), if the field of expanded cast wasn’t already overcrowded and heavily tilted towards Frozen. I’m curious about her connections to both Emma and Rumple. Likewise Michael Socha’s Will Scarlet. I loved his manic energy in “Rocky Road.”
I’m also interested (and hope they explore, and not just give lip service) in Snow White’s difficulty in letting go of her baby. Her scene with Archie was great, and if this is her arc for the season, great. But again, with so many characters filling each episode’s 42-43 minutes, I don’t hold out a lot of hope for a deep exploration of Snow’s angst.
As much as I like Regina turning herself around–a woman in love trying (and succeeding) to re-form herself. But I’m guessing in the end, she will have no need for “the writer” because she will have re-written her own story. But I’m less happy about the swiftness of her turnaround. Where is the intense energy of Regina old self? She’s so wrapped up in getting her happy ending with Robin and doing good deeds, much of her power as a character has been sapped.
How many new characters have we got this season? Robin (more prominent than last), Marian, Will Scarlet, Elsa, Anna, and the Snow Queen–not to mention Hans and all the other Arendelle characters. With having to service all these new characters and their story lines, especially with Captain Hook involved everywhere, no wonder there is little time for Rumplestiltskin and Regina.
So, clearly, there is a connection between Elsa, the Snow Queen and Rumple, and it appears from next week’s promo, that we’ll learn more about that. I’m certainly happy for a Rumplestiltskin-centric episode, but his character this season continues to bother me, especially after this week’s episode. Understand, I never want to see a Rumplestiltskin who is completely good and heroic. That would make for a very boring character (and it is the lack of darkness or edge to most of the other characters on the show that renders them less interesting than, say Regina and Rumple). Even Emma can use a little more edge.
But it appears that where they are headed with Rumple and that dagger would negate so much of his growth last season: the heroic man who kills the evil Peter Pan, even if means his own death. The grieving father who promises to not make Baelfire’s death meaningless. He sacrifices himself so that Rumple can live on and be the hero–the good guy Baelfire knows he is.
Even in the season four premiere, we see Rumple’s intentions set on doing the right thing, and now, he seems to have forgotten even his intention. He deals with Hook to maintain his lie, and whether Rumple’s decision to hold onto the dagger has to do with righting a wrong (whatever is going on with the Snow Queen) or not, we do not see him struggle with this decision at all. It simply is, and that really detracts from our understanding of Rumple’s decision making.
You can easily say the same thing for Regina. Because we spend so much time elsewhere, and with so many new characters outside the core cast, we do not see motivation for action. Not from Regina, not from Rumple. Now, I’m not saying we should see their motivations for every action (what fun would that be?) But particularly with Rumple and Regina we are not privy to their emotional internal struggle to stay good (or to veer from it). So, instead we get the scene between Rumple and Hook with Rumple’s disingenuousness, and Hook easily wrapping Rumple around his finger.
Rumple has so easily slipped into the lure of power, or so it would seem. And that, to me is illogical, given his vow to honor Baelfire’s memory and his commitment to Belle. And to have her use the fake dagger, exploiting her like that, is out of character and antithetical to what we know of Rumple’s journey.
And Regina, suddenly looking like a doe-eyed school girl, and not the powerhouse woman we had known her to be? I barely recognize her.
As for Emma, whose story this seems to be, I loved her using her magic, unafraid, for once. But her confession to Hook about everyone she has loved dying around her? That’s the reason she has that big “keep out sign” attached to her forehead? I thought it went deeper than that. She’s had those barriers up since the pilot; she has trust issues (that could not have gone away), and insecurity issues. (And I would still not trust Hook as far as I could throw him.)
As much as I’m looking forward to next week’s more Rumple-centric episode, I’ve got strong reservations about where his story is headed. Is his growth to be negated? Or has he got some reason for his behavior? A very good reason. Because at this point, if I were Belle, I’d run for the hills. I never thought I’d say this about Rumple, but in tonight’s episode I truly disliked him. There was not a whit of reservation or motivation. And that has me worried. Not about the narrative, which can go any way The Powers That Be wish to carry it, but whether I will find any reason to continue rooting for the character that first drew me to watch the show in the first place.
We will be talking about the episode, my article, fan reaction and the reaction of the show’s creator on the next Let’s Talk TV Live, which will air Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. ET on the Blogcritics Radio Network.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=0062209507,0615934013,B00007G1VR,1475003463]