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Cora has Regina right where she wants her by the end of this week's Once Upon a Time episode "The Cricket Game"

TV Review: Once Upon a Time – “The Cricket Game”

Back from winter hiatus, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) are back in Storybrooke, having back through the portal. The focus returns to Regina in this week’s Once Upon a Time episode “The Cricket Game.” 

As the show moves forward into the second half of season two, as the series’ creators told me in a recent interview, “the focus will be on Snow, Emma, and Charming (Josh Dallas), Regina (Lana Parrilla) and Henry (Jared Gilmore), Rumple (Robert Carlyle) and Belle (Emilie de Ravin), and Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) and Cora (Barbara Hershey). They are going to probably take center stage for awhile.”

But the story begins with the return of Hook and Cora as Hook make their grand entrance in confederation as they prepare to explore the town. They skulk around town, keeping an eye on all as Cora is intent on breaking Regina down to her lowest point, isolated and alone with no one to turn to. You may recall that Cora’s deepest desire is to leave Regina with no on else so all she has to turn to is Mommy Dearest. 
Setting up her daughter as the murderer of the beloved Archie (Jiminy Cricket, played by Raphael Sbarge), Cora has done her worst. To everyone, it appears that Regina has murdered the town shrink. Although Emma is inclined to give Regina the benefit of the doubt, Cora has done such a good job that even magic, now wielded by Emma, cannot evoke the actual truth.

The episode shifts back and forth between post-curse Storybrooke and the days just before Snow and Charming’s wedding day. Defeating Charming’s “father” George and winning his kingdom, the pair are now after Regina’s blood, deciding to execute her in the castle courtyard. But Snow has a change of heart, not sure if she wants to kill the woman who saved her life so many years earlier. Charming is not so merciful, but Rumplestiltskin visits with what may be an answer to Snow’s dilemma – a test, and one that Regina fails. 

Within this test, Rumple embeds a magic that will not let Regina hurt Snow or Charming while in Fairytale Land, but as he later tells Regina, this limitation does not apply to other worlds, and thus he sets up the 28-year curse Regina will eventually use on all of them.

This week’s episode is much about the dangers of judging a person based on their past, for good or for evil. One of the series’ main themes is “evil isn’t born, it is made,” and back in Fairytale Land Snow believes that buried beneath all that making into Regina into the Evil Queen lies a decent person. 

Snow judges that she is redeemable, all she needs is a little compassion. “As hard as you’ve tried to bury her, so still inside you,” Snow tells Regina, recalling how the Evil Queen once saved her life when she was a little girl.

Likewise, the Storybrooke townspeople have preconceived notions about Regina; they know her far too well to trust her. And Cora would know that; they play right into her hands. It’s too believable that Regina is the killer, although the evidence is almost too convenient, as Emma realizes. 

Lana Parrilla does a great job as Regina in “The Cricket Game.” She is remorseful and feeling isolated, but at the same time, that antagonistic fire is pretty close to the surface. It comes out despite her desire to be a bit more humble and agreeable. 

I have to say, I was disappointed in Archie. I’m with Regina; Archie really has no right to tell anyone that Regina is seeking therapy. On the other hand, Archie’s PhD was achieved via (her) magic and not years of post-graduate study! But back in Fairytale Land, Archie’s words are prophetic: “As long as the queen lives, the kingdom is in danger.” And he is right, as is Charming when he foreshadows, “If we don’t stop her now, there’s no telling what she’ll do.”
But, of course, all of it is of a grand manipulation by none other than Rumplestiltskin. He protects Snow and Charming from harm. (He needs them to produce a child, the product of true love.) But he also gives Regina the ability to destroy all of their happiness and take them away to a land without magic, a place, he promises her, where she can do all the harm she wishes.
I have to say that I really loved the scene in Mr. Gold’s shop.
Rumple and Belle apparently on their way to a picnic as he continues to court her behind the scenes, but then he uses a bit of magic with Pongo to help Emma learn the truth (at least the apparent truth) using her own magic. Belle seems not to mind Gold using his abilities to be helpful, and he’s not even requiring anything in exchange for his magical assistance. 
I loved the reference to his experience with sheepdogs. Could that be from his spinning days or is this more foreshadowing? In any event, he does seem quite taken with Pongo. 
I also loved that Gold believes in Emma’s magic as much as he is fascinated by it. (And likely figuring out how he can exploit it to help him find Baelfire.) But as Emma is warned using Rumple’s favorite axiom, “all magic comes with a price.” What will Emma’s price be? I’m sure we’ll find out eventually.
In the end, Archie isn’t dead, he’s Cora’s little gift to Hook. The town psychiatrist has all the scoop on everyone, so why not Mr. Gold? If you recall from last year’s episode “The Stranger,” Archie knows a great deal about Gold’s weaknesses, including, and perhaps especially, his desperate quest to find his son Baelfire. 
Next week’s episode looks fabulous based on the preview, and I cannot wait for the first confrontation between Hook and Mr. Gold and whatever else may transpire. 
Be sure to tune into Let’s Talk TV Live Monday night, January 7. I will be playing an excerpt from my interview with Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis, and there will be plenty of time for discussion of tonight’s episode and some speculation about next week.
January 21, I will be welcoming back to the show the fabulous Jane Espenson to talk about her latest episode. So stay tuned!
Once Upon a Time airs Sunday nights at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.

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)."

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