“There will always be something else. We can’t let it define us. We have to find the good moments in between all of the bad ones.”Snow White
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Michael Raymond-James, Jared S. Gilmore, and Robert Carlyle.
The problem with having seasons of twenty-two episodes is that sometimes you have to stretch or condense plot to fit the constraints that the network have placed upon you as the writers. For some programmes, this isn’t too much of a problem, as some shows juggle a “villain-of-the-week” storyline alongside their longer running arcs, but Once, this season at least, has instead favoured a predominantly story arc approach to their storytelling. This means that what we end up with is obstacle after obstacle until we eventually reach a conclusion. Here, I wonder how many episodes the creatives actually would have needed if they had been produced now, or on Netflix, and as a result how much of what we are left with is “filler”. Ultimately, this episode serves to set the stage for next episode’s Winter finale.
The link between the present storyline and the flashbacks were especially tenuous this week, as it explored the need to appreciate the good “moments” (yeah, that word gets said an awful lot in the episode) in between the bad ones. This led to us having to sit through a frankly quite pointless Charming and Snow adventure in which Snow tries to cut off Medusa’s head to use as a weapon against Regina. The flashback offered us nothing that we didn’t already know about these characters. Without it, this episode would have felt much more cohesive and allowed us to revel in the joy of our characters being back in Storybrooke again. Instead, we have Snow deciding that she and Charming should start a family because there will always be some sort of problem. Personally, I feel like it’s ridiculously irresponsible to have a child when you still have a deadly dangerous enemy, but that’s just my two-pence.
Seeing Storybrooke again was an absolute delight, and the present storyline focussed upon our characters as they got back to normality. No longer were they having to worry about deadly situations, but thoughts instead turned to the future, namely what being back in Storybrooke meant for Neal and Emma’s blossoming relationship as well as Regina and Emma’s dynamic concerning Henry. Of course, for the audience this sense of normalcy is undercut by our knowledge that Pan is inhabiting Henry’s body for some nefarious purpose. Fortunately, this plot point is ironed out quite quickly to avoid too many frustrating situations, and Pan’s new plan is a genuine threat looming over the program. Unleashing a second Dark Curse to wipe the memories of Storybrooke’s inhabitants to be ruled over by Pan? Definitely high stakes, because nobody would want to watch that show.
Ultimately, this episode didn’t defy expectation in very many ways, except for the dreadful waste of time the flashback was. We know going into the episode that nobody would suspect Pan of being in Henry’s body and that he would enact some plan while they were all confused about it happening. Perhaps the more shocking aspects were the ineptitudes that led to this state. For example, nobody would have suspected that Pan was even back unless Pan had unleashed his shadow to kill Blue, which begs the question why it was necessary in the first place, unless it was merely part of Pan’s plans to get to Regina’s vault. Quite why Pan had any knowledge of Regina’s vault or the presence of the Dark Curse within it is a wholly other oddly-convenient moment.
Blue’s death packed little impact for the viewer, as she has never been an especially central figure within the show, and when she does appear she’s a judgmental cow. In fact, in the scene directly before she does have her shadow forcibly ripped from her body, she asks Tinker Bell, “How can you expect me to believe in you when you don’t believe in yourself?” Cold. Maybe she doesn’t believe in herself because you turned her back into a human without a second chance? You can’t blame her for the self esteem problems that you created in her. That’s poor leadership, Blue.
Strangely, one of the greater performances and characters within this episode was Charming. Often he can fade into the background or merely spend his time pandering to Snow’s whims, but this episode he was delightfully encouraging and understanding for Emma, provided some necessary humour, and was quite endearing within the meandering flashbacks. The relationship between Emma and Charming is a wonderful one, though it continues to be overlooked within the programme as a whole, so here’s hoping that they keep up that dynamic moving forwards. The love triangle between Emma, Neal and Hook also took a non-frustrating turn, as Hook agreed to step back from the situation to allow Henry’s parents the chance to get back together without him in the way, which was admirable, until he tried to have sex with Tink to forget his woes.
This episode also went some way to proving that Jared S. Gilmore isn’t actually a bad actor, it’s just that Henry is the character from hell. When wandering around, he plays sinister very well, though his eyebrows are nowhere near as expressive as Robbie Kay’s. Meanwhile, when Kay has to portray Henry, he is a similar shade of annoying that we’re all accustomed to. Both actors did brilliantly portraying the other, however, even if they haven’t quite nailed all of the mannerisms.
- In the Enchanted Forest, Snow and Charming go on their honeymoon and Snow hunts down Medusa to use against Regina.
- The heroes return to Storybrooke, but Emma is suspicious of Henry.
- Pan’s shadow kills Blue, so Emma releases Pan from Pandora’s Box to discover that Henry and Pan have swapped bodies.
- Pan knocks out Regina and steals the Dark Curse, promising to start the curse over and create a New Neverland.
- The slow motion intros of all the characters stepping off the Jolly Roger was a little much. It’s the beginning of the episode, guys, it’s really unnecessary.
- Regina receiving a round of applause from the gathered citizens of Storybrooke was a brilliant touch, so hopefully the town does come around to viewing Regina as something other than the Evil Queen sometime soon.
- Charming saying, “You think I’m interested in Hook? Emma, I’m a married man.” was such a Dad joke, and I hate myself for laughing. I also hate myself for being more than a little aroused at the thought.
- It was somewhat typical that Emma and Regina would butt heads over Henry wanting to spend time with Regina, and it was nice that Regina later acknowledged that she had been blinkered because of her desire for Henry to want to spend time with her.
- “If he’s all the way out here, where’s Pan?” asks Charming, in what must be one of the more stupid questions that has been asked on this show. He is in Henry’s body, in Regina’s crypt.
- Emma taking her parents to task for their talk of “good moments in between the bad” makes complete sense. It does never end! This is what the viewers have been saying for such a long time. It’s small wonder that Emma doesn’t have time to smell the roses when there’s a new supernatural threat banging down the door every other week. They’ve been pretty much non-stop at this ever since magic returned to Storybrooke! First there was getting transported to the Enchanted Forest, then getting back and having Cora, then having Greg and Tamara, then going to Neverland, and now back. Aren’t they all exhausted?!
- It was slightly disappointing that they wasted Medusa as just a “monster” character. If anybody is deserving of a more sympathetic story, then surely it’s Medusa? She was raped by a God and then “punished” by another God with a countenance that would turn anybody who looked upon her to stone. That’s a tragedy story, Once Upon a Time! But no, instead she was just a generic monster. Also, if Medusa is part of this story where do they draw the line? Are the Hobbits suddenly going to turn up? Or Harry Potter? Stop the madness.
- Ariel and Eric’s reunion was very sweet, and simple. I’m glad that they didn’t spend too much time of the episode dwelling on that storyline, though.
- As expected, now that everybody else is back in Storybrooke, Belle is back to being part of the scenery.
- If one more person says “magic has a price” I swear down…
The change of scene from Neverland back to Storybrooke was long overdue, and the Pan/Henry switch plot has been hastily discovered, to all the viewers’ relief. Pan’s new plan for Storybrooke is genuinely threatening and sure to make the Winter finale as epic and cataclysmic as Once Upon a Time is capable of.
You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.