Death is the fate of all SaviorsJafar
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Jared S. Gilmore, Rebecca Mader, and Robert Carlyle.
Episode 5: Street Rats
”Street Rats” finally delivers in gifting us the tale of Jasmine and Aladdin, after it being teased since the season premiere. Not only is it deftly told and well portrayed, but it also fits in well with Emma’s current dilemma in Storybrooke as she comes to grips with her own mortality.
The wait was worth it to see part of Aladdin and Jasmine’s history, and it has been suitably altered in the typical Once fashion. Unusually, however, the CGI used to achieve Agrabah was effective and enhanced the locations, even though I was secretly a little disappointed that the Cave of Wonders didn’t look like a giant sandy lion.
One of the chief changes to the Aladdin tale is to flesh out both the main characters. Jasmine is no longer the damsel in distress that she appeared in the movie. She takes it upon herself to involve Aladdin in order to save Agrabah from Jafar and to break her father from his enchantment. Though she ultimately still gets saved by Aladdin (but, he is the Saviour, to be fair), she still demonstrates a whole lot more agency than her animated counterpart.
Similarly, Aladdin is also interesting, even though his accent journeyed the length and breadth of England within forty minutes. Quite a considerable achievement, when you think about it. It’s also easy to tell which out of Jasmine and Aladdin is rich and which is poor, because one of them speaks like the Queen which = money, and the other talks like he’s been recently hit over the head, which I guess = homeless? It’s the little things. Who’d have known that a fictional Middle-Eastern inspired location would be so defined by different English regional dialects.
I digress: Aladdin is given the permission here to be flawed. He’s also given a whole lot more power by himself than the Disney animation. Instead of using the Genie’s magic to help him save the kingdom, the job falls to Aladdin himself and his own magic as the Saviour of Agrabah. An interesting plot point is also the fact that he fights against this role, and doesn’t immediately accept it. The Aladdin in the movie was much more of a hero throughout the movie, and behaved far less selfishly, so it’s nice to see these concepts both within the past, and in the present in the way that he hides from Jasmine to pretend that he is dead.
Aladdin’s story ties in nicely with Emma’s development this season. Her disturbing visions about her impending death has thrown up massive questions about the ultimate fate of the Saviour, and that definitely comes to the fore here as she discovers that Aladdin is a past Saviour. Her search for him is defined by her own need to see whether she can run away from her own fate. Despite her own fears, however, she does not elect to use the shears and run away from the problem, insisting in a typical Charming-like fashion that they will find a third option.
As much as the slow burn is on this story for Emma’s development as the Saviour, the way that it is being shown so heavily the anxiety and the foreshadowing of her imminent demise, it makes it fairly obvious that this will not come to pass. I mean, this is pretty much true of any show that features a flashforward: they never actually die, but fortunately it doesn’t completely remove the audience from the character development in the same way that we stopped respecting villains like Hades due to our knowledge that they would, ultimately, be defeated.
Having said that, it is nice for the secret to be out in the open. Much as her therapy sessions with Archie were nice, the plot was in danger of being dragged on too long with little forward thrust. Now with Aladdin around, and knowing that he only escaped death by using the shears, and with Team Charming and Regina on side, and slightly stressed by the future, it helps to unite the cast under one story albeit briefly.
It’s an interesting move in this season to frame Emma’s station as the Saviour as both a blessing and a curse. It’s a throwback to Season 1 in a way, in the way that she suffered for 28 years such that she could save everybody else. Her practical existence is defined by the need to save others, but there’s never been any accommodation within that of saving herself. It really taps into the realism that Once strives to inject into their fairytale stories. These concepts really make Season 6 feel much more mature than the overt enemies of previous seasons. Having no set visible menace to fight against, instead just an impending end point causes us to spend so much more time with the characters emotions than we’ve been afforded of late.
Elsewhere, Zelena’s character takes a troubling turn in this episode. It appears that she’s decided to ally herself with the Evil Queen over Regina, giving in to that need for a family who accepts her as she is. Partly of which, of course, is because it’s no doubt easier for her to remain as she always has been than to try and change and still face rejection. What The Evil Queen offers her is incredibly enticing, so it makes a whole lot of sense that she would be seduced by it.
Hopefully, moving forwards there is more of a dilemma for Zelena than we see here. Rebecca Mader is one of the strongest actors in the cast, and Zelena is an incredibly entertaining character. While it’s always great to see her being as deliciously devious as possible, I hope that she has more internal conflict about which sister to ally herself with as the season progresses further.
Finally, Hook has secretly kept Aladdin’s shears, despite Emma’s insistence that they find another way. The fact that he’s keeping secrets from her is interesting, but it’s entirely understandable. While it’s against Emma’s wishes, Hook’s love for her and his want for her to stay alive goes beyond that, in the same way that Emma turning Hook into the Dark One to save him did. It’s also dramatically intriguing for there to be so many secrets between our heroes: Emma has still yet to voice her concerns that it’s Regina who slays her, and Charming is still keeping his ongoing search into who murdered his father close to his chest.
”Street Rats” is another reliable and consistent instalment in Once’s sixth season. It continues to give fair weight to its main cast, and successfully balances an illuminating and engaging flashback with present tension. Though this episode was fairly exposition heavy and lighter on the action that we have seen in every other episode this season, this sixth season is definitely the most cohesive, nuanced and character driven collection yet.
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.