Once Upon A Time Review: I Don't Believe You
Sunday night’s Once Upon A Time left us with plenty of questions but not a whole lot of answers—which is, of course, ideal for a drama in the middle of its season. This episode felt strongly constructed, which pleased me, but there were certainly character deviations that came out of nowhere and distracted me to the point that the plot no longer felt believable.
But surely you’re wondering what I’m talking about, so let’s begin at the start.
You’ll recall that last week we left Rumplestilskin (Robert Carlyle) dying at the hands of Hook. We learned from his flashbacks that he has Henry to blame for his predicament, but now that the young boy has been declared Rumple’s grandson, we’ve got a few wrinkles in the plan. Henry, Rumple, Emma, and Neil (Baelfire) sailed Hook’s ship home to Storybrooke, where Charming and Snow met them at the dock.
The royal couple held a less than private conversation (totally didn’t believe they would a – still be discussing this and b – discuss it within hearing distance of, oh, anyone who wants to listen) about whether or not Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) should sacrifice her pure heart and blanket goodness to rid the world of the evil Cora (Barbara Hershey) once and for all.
I will say that Charming (Josh Dallas) did a marginally better job this week of making believe that he actually gave a hoot. So, there was that.
Once they got Rumplestilskin back to his shop (he’s dying conveniently slow, btw), he had Emma (Jennifer Morrison) draw an invisible line of protection on the floor with an invisible piece of chalk. She and Neil (Michael Raymond-James) had a lovely conversation about how many things they didn’t know about each other (I’m not being snarky; the chemistry between them has always been and continues to be a great addition to the show). We didn’t learn anything more about his mysterious fiancé, but it’s clear there’s still something brewing between Emma and Henry’s father.
Rumplestilskin took advantage of the overheard conversation between Charming and Snow, giving her the take a life/save a life spell that Cora bestowed baby Snow last week. When she protested that if she wouldn’t even use it to save her own mother, why would she use it to save Rumple, he replied simply that she wasn’t a child anymore. The ways of the world had become clearer, and killing Cora was the best thing for everyone—in other words, their interests are aligned.
Rumple told Snow that Cora’s heart no longer rested within her body, so Snow could cast the spell over the disembodied heart. She would then need to find a way to put the organ back in Cora’s body, but that would be enough to kill her and save Rumplestilskin’s life. He even played the “I’m Henry’s grandpa,” card, which made me suspicious of his motives all over again.
One of the best things about Rumplestilskin’s character (and makes it one of the only tolerable parts of the show at the moment), is his tendency to play the unreliable narrator. I believe that he wants to be a good man but I am under no illusion that he is a good man—or that he won’t find a way to justify being bad if it suits his needs. Belle is an exception to that rule; I typically feel as though he’s being honest when it comes to her, and Sunday night was no exception. The phone call he made to say goodbye to a woman who doesn’t even know him anymore came through the television screen with a visceral power that made me believe in his ability to love. It also brought Bae back to his father—if not all the way to forgiveness, at least a step closer.
For that reason (my belief in Rumplestilskin and Belle’s love), the entire Cora/Rumplestilskin Fairytale Land backstory rang completely false. I did love seeing where Cora came from, the fact that she hadn’t turned evil without provocation, and even that Snow White’s beloved mother hadn’t been an innocent angel for the entirety of her life. I loved that Cora was the woman who promised her firstborn to Rumplestilskin if he would show her how to spin straw into gold, basically saving her life.
What I didn’t buy, and certainly didn’t like, was the romantic/sexual relationship that blossomed between the two of them literally overnight. The whole idea behind his attachment to Belle was that he’d never dared love a woman after his wife broke his heart by running off with Hook, and yet…here we have him professing love and a broken heart due to Cora’s mistreatment. I can certainly understand his attraction to a woman as cold, calculating, and literally heartless as he is—I cannot get on board with believing any real emotion between the two of them.
Snow White found Cora’s heart and enacted the spell. When Regina (Lana Parrilla) discovered her old enemy with Cora’s heart in her hands, Snow gave Regina what sounded like a typical Snow White choice—take the heart and put it back in her mother, perhaps have the chance to know what it would be like to have her love for real…or do nothing.
Regina took the shot at knowing her mother (we all know she’s not supposed to be evil at her core, andRegina has never experienced Cora’s love), returning her mother’s heart to her chest. This, of course, killed Cora. Which left Regina pretty pissed off at Snow, who had tried to change her mind at the last moment but had been too late.
So, outstanding questions: will next week bring even more death as Snow and Regina finally put an end to the lifelong battle between them? Will Charming look at Snow differently, and will she be able to forgive herself? What’s Henry going to think about all of this? Will Neil return to NYC and his fiancé, or remain in Storybrooke to spend time with his son? Is Hook still locked in a closet? How did Neil learn how to pilot an invisible pirate ship?
In addition—is Ethan Embry still running loose in the damn hospital?
The action in the episode entertained me, certainly, even in the moments where it bordered on melodramatic, and I’m really looking forward to witnessing the potential relationship (re)growth between Emma and Neil. I think that Michael Raymond-James brings fantastic charisma to the show and I look forward to every scene that includes him. The Cora storyline was getting old, so that can be done with now and no one will be the worse for it.
The backstory with Rumplestilskin and Cora, though, felt wildly out of character for them both. It also degraded his relationship with Belle, in my opinion, which has been far and away the best part of Season 2. Even though I enjoyed this episode more than some over the past several weeks, the characters and storytelling still feels largely like a hit or miss patchwork quilt, and a disappointment after the beautifully constructed and executed Season 1.
Season 2, Episode 16 “The Miller’s Daughter” (originally aired March 10, 2013)
Once Upon A Time airs Sunday nights at 8/7c on ABC
Images courtesy of Jack Rowand and ABC