Episode Review: Once Upon a Time 5×22 & 5×23

Okay.  I don’t want to be hyperbolic and say that this is the worst pair of episodes this show has ever seen but…this is the worst pair of episodes this show has ever seen!

Clearly, I delayed watching these episodes. Partly, that was because I was on vacation overseas with limited time and internet, but it was also because I’d seen hints of what was to come on Tumblr and did not like it.

Let’s start with the one single thing I liked:

Every time Regina and Emma interact, it is perfection. Seriously, these two play off each other so well, and both actresses are brilliant. Emma’s deadpan Straight Man attitude is such a great foil to Regina’s snark. And I will never get tired of them being called Henry’s parents. Oh, if only Hook had stayed dead, think what could have become of Regina and Emma! I mean, look at Regina – hardened, reserved Regina is so vulnerable with Emma. For a crappy pair of episodes, that speech Regina gave about the two sides warring within her was beautiful. I just wish it hadn’t been foreshadowing for what came next.

Okay, now for the bad:

First of all, this whole Author thing is ridiculous. So Henry literally has the power to alter reality? He’s basically a God? That’s a ludicrous thing to have on your show, because what’s the point of any action if there exists the possibility of just writing it down to make it happen? I mean, why didn’t Henry just write magic out of the world? Or why not write himself a solution to ending magic? What’s the point of anything if he has these powers? This is Writing Rule #1, foks: you don’t put God in your story.

Speaking of Henry, there was way too much of him in this episode. I don’t know if it’s the character or the actor, but he is just so grating. I don’t mind him so much when he’s just hovering in the background, but he was basically the lynch pin of these two episodes, which meant he was in the spotlight all the time. The dude just makes me cringe; he’s so embarrassing. One minute he wants to end magic, the next he’s giving a speech on how magic can be good. Talk about being a moody teenager.

Also, not to get all pedantic librarian on you, but what the hell was up with that scene in the NYPL? I’m assuming Henry and Violet were going to the Brooke Astor Russell Reading Room, but that’s not a room full of rare books – it’s just a reading room where you can read material requested from the Rare Books Division. And even if it was the collection of rare books, no librarian is just going to let a couple of teenagers (with their coats and bags!) into the archives and just leave them there to do whatever they want. And no one’s been to the Rare Books Division in years because they’re too busy reading YA? That is not only a pointless dig at the YA genre, but also a sanctimonious commentary on those who read YA and an unbelievable statement. No one in New York City has used the Rare Books Division in years? I’m sorry, what alternate dimension of New York City have we fallen through?

Then we have the whole Jekyll/Hyde situation. I’m still not clear on how the gang fell through the portal, but I suppose the plot needs them to be there, though what an awful plot it is. This is the best the writers could come up with? The Evil Queen is back? Not only is that basically rehashing the earlier seasons, it is a complete slap in the face to Regina’s character growth.

Throughout this episode, I was uncomfortable with the way Regina kept referring to “the Evil Queen” in the third person, like she was a literal alter ego, but I didn’t think much of it because I assumed that was just Regina’s coping mechanism. This was her way of dealing with the horrible crimes she’s committed in her past, by trying to separate her current self from them. I never thought the writers would literally separate her past self from her present self. Because that’s the thing: when I talk about past and present Regina, I’m still talking about the same person. The Evil Queen is the same woman we see today, not some separate entity who exists to exonerate Regina of all the wrong she’s done.

Regina tells Emma she feels heavy guilt all the time, but that’s not an indication that there’s something wrong – Regina should feel guilty. I enjoy Regina as a character very much, but she is a mass murderer. She’s committed horrible, horrible acts – including massacring an entire village. That she feels guilty means that she’s becoming a better person, because she’s truly regretful. That she will continue to struggle for the rest of her life is just something she has to live with, and considering what she’s done, it should be a small price to pay. It also makes for a fascinating narrative – a woman struggling to come to terms with what she’s done and trying her best to hold back the darkness.

Instead, all that is trashed. What is the point of Regina’s entire redemption arc if now the new canon is that the Evil Queen is not really Regina but totally and completely separate from her? Not to mention, none of this makes any sense. I know I should know better than to expect too much logic from this show, but it’s always made sense in terms of its own rules, at least! I don’t understand what this is or where we’re going with this? What does this even mean for Regina, now that she is free of the Evil Queen? Is she the same person? Does she no longer feel guilt over her acts because she’s convinced herself she wasn’t the one who committed them? And what is the Evil Queen, anyway? A manifestation of Regina’s past self or all of her dark impulses (which we all have)? Does this mean she will no longer struggle with making a choice between what is right and what is easy?

This makes absolutely no sense.

Worse than all of this is that the episode was boring. It was boring and utterly predictable.

Episode Review: Once Upon a Time 5×21

Well, this felt very much like a finale. It’s hard to believe that there’s still two whole episodes left; are we going to need that much story time to set up next season’s conflict? I wouldn’t complain if it meant witnessing some domestic bliss in Storybrooke, but I know our heroes are barely going to get a single night’s rest before having to deal with the next big thing.

So, this episode put the lid on the Hades storyline once and for all (I hope, anyway), but Hades took Robin along with him, for reasons I truly can’t fathom. Is this supposed to set up Regina to backslide next season? Because otherwise I really don’t see why Robin had to die so horribly (to be wiped out of existence!). If they had wanted to prove Hades’ treachery to Zelena, they could have just had her listen in and then witness Hades shoot the bolt at Regina, who Robin could have saved by ducking them both out of the way. Especially since it wasn’t exactly like Hades took them unawares.

But anyway, Robin died, and Hades died, and while we got a nice moment of sisterly solidarity out of it, I can’t see this going over smoothly into next season, especially now that Hook’s come back. I can’t imagine Regina taking that very well. They went to the Underworld because of Hook and Emma. Hook came back, but Robin died. That’s gotta hurt. (Also, excuse me, Hook’s back? Just like that? Because Zeus brought him back? Talk about deus ex machina.)

Speaking of solidarity, this episode built up a very abrupt bromance between Hook and Arthur. It’s not that I disliked it, but it just seemed very out of place. I’m not sure why Hades killed Arthur in the first place. Because he was just in the way? Because the writers needed any random ol’ person to help Hook? Arthur is basically the reason they managed to kill Hades, so Hades engineered his own death sentence due to his own callousness. Classic. Anyway, I continued to be suspicious towards Arthur even when he was about to risk his soul to help Killian – when did Arthur become so altruistic, anyway? Plus the actor always plays him in such a shady way, you can’t help but think the dude’s up to something.

One thing I did like about Arthur descending to the Underworld is that it seems he’s destined to save it now. I always liked how this show played around with mythology to make everything fit with their own mythos, and this is just another example of that. True, it’s a little too clean, a little too convenient, but as always, I’ll let it slide.

Miscellaneous Observations:

→ Does nobody care that Belle is still under a sleeping curse? When they were all holed up in the library looking through those books, I thought someone would at least mention that if only they had Belle the research would go a lot easier. But nope, nothing! I get that they had bigger things to worry about and Belle is technically safe, but c’mon!

→ Also, Belle’s father is a terrible human being. He’s always been terrible, but this just takes the cake. I seriously want to punch him in his smug face. I didn’t expect him to go along with Rumple easily, but I didn’t expect he’d stonewall completely. Why Belle still trusts her father to fulfill any of her wishes is beyond me. I mean, essentially, his view is, “Better my daughter be as good as dead for eternity rather than conscious and making choices that I disapprove of!” Are we not supposed to find this guy gross? Because I don’t know how the writers could pull this and not expect us to think he’s really, really, really gross.

→ Zelena’s reaction to Regina telling her the truth about Hades was utterly predictable. But, I was surprised to see Zelena not only switch sides at the end, but take out Hades herself! That was intense, considering Hades and Zelena were sold as true love. I can’t imagine anyone else on this show killing their One True Love. I mean, hell, Emma literally went to the Underworld to save Hook. I don’t know if that shows Zelena’s fortitude or ruthlessness. Probably the latter, which is an interesting character trait.

→ I like snarky!Killian a hell of a lot more than loveydovey!Killian. I mean: “Can we get to the acceptance already?” Gold.

→ Emma soliciting murder advice from Rumple felt like someone low-key asking for drugs. It was actually kind of hilarious. But um, did I miss something? Did that conversation ever go anywhere? Did Rumple give her any advice?

→ Emma and David are so adorable. I love all their scenes together. Their relationship is fascinating, because it could be so easily read as a friendship, or a brother-sister relationship, when it is in fact neither of those things. But because of the age difference, the ambiguity lets your imagination run wild. The non-traditional boundaries of this relationship makes it so much more appealing. And unlike Emma and Mary Margaret, David and Emma were never close before the curse broke. And how much do I love Emma? This whole episode she was basically suck in the “anger” stage of grief, and her belligerent “How do other people deal with death?” was just a perfect embodiment of that. Jennifer Morrison kills it as usual.

Episode Review: Once Upon a Time 5×20

This is the first episode I’ve truly enjoyed since this godforsaken Underworld arc began.

Here’s the thing: I really, really don’t ship Captain Swan. I don’t even know why. I certainly wish I did; it would be way more fun that way. Before the Frozen arc (one of my favorites!), I actively despised the pairing. For some reason, having Elsa in the mix warmed me up to Captain Swan a whole lot. Now, I no longer despise the pairing, but I don’t love it either. Best that could be said is that I’m ambivalent. So having a whole arc essentially devoted to Emma and Hook’s love wasn’t appealing to me in the least. Not to mention the grimy, red sepia filter of an Underworld wasn’t doing anyone any favors (though it provided the appropriate ambiance, I suppose).

Before anyone jumps to conclusions, no, I didn’t love this episode because Emma left Hook behind. I loved it from the minute it began. So let’s get started:

What I Loved:

→ Emma’s backstory! The moment I saw Emma in glasses, I leaped up in joy! Emma is my favorite character on the series, and I eat up any scene she’s in. Then she runs into bail bonds person Cleo Fox, who delivers to Emma a speech parallel to the one Emma gave in the pilot episode. That’s when I started laughing maniacally (my brother thought I had gone mad), as I realized we had just found out how and why Emma became a bail bonds person. And when Emma took off towards her yellow bug, with Cleo sauntering calmly after her in a mirror image to Emma in the pilot, I knew exactly what was about to happen. This entire plotline was utterly delightful. Watching Emma easily pick her way out of the handcuffs (classic Emma), followed by Cleo freaking out only to find Emma casually lingering at her computer, was priceless.

The rest of this plot then became way too convenient, but I loved it anyway. Cleo is inadvertently killed while she and Emma are running away from the police, and Emma takes up her mantle as a bail bonds person. Not only that, she tracks down Cleo’s daughter Tasha, who Cleo gave up for adoption. Then, in a symbolic moment, Emma picks out her red leather jacket from Tasha’s store, giving this storyline some very neat closure. Overall, I honestly think it’s one of the best flashback plots this series has ever done.

Despite how utterly ridiculous Once Upon A Time can be sometimes, one of the things I love most about it is that it’s all about women’s stories. It passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. It prioritizes women’s stories over anyone else’s. This is not to say that its treatment of women’s storylines is always flawless (far from it), but its lead female characters are hardly ever given the short end of the stick. Especially Emma. This episode was a great example of that.

Sidenote: That owner of that lobster house in Maine may not think the food is worth sticking around for, but that view certainly is! Wow! I mean, would you look at this:


Other Sidenote: As someone who wears glasses, I always love seeing Emma (or anyone, really, but especially Emma) in glasses. But I can never stop wondering what happened to them. Did Emma get LASIK? Does she wear contacts (sometimes, when I peer into Emma’s eyes, I think I can see the outline of contacts)? If so, does she, like, carry her contacts/contact case/contact solution with her to the Underworld? What did she do in season 2 when she was, without warning, sucked into the Enchanted Forest? What about in Neverland?

→ Regina being a protective sister to Zelena. Sure, she’s only been “a devoted sister for all of three hours,” to quote Hades, but I’m already loving the dynamic! Regina’s morals may be questionable, but what’s not in question is how fiercely she protects those she loves, once she decides they are worthy of her protection. Zelena’s always been given a bad hand, anyway. If Regina, Mass Murderer Extraordinaire, can be given a pass, then Zelena can too. That quiet moment between them, when they exchanged smiles and Regina handed Zelena her daughter back? Precious.

→ Zelena hesitating before stepping into the portal with Hades, insisting that she couldn’t leave her sister behind. I mean! What a transformation! I totally buy it, though. Memories come with intense feelings, and since Regina and Zelena now remember loving each other, it’s believable to me that they so easily love each other once more. I mean, I have a feeling this sisterly bond won’t last too long, since next episode will involve Regina and the others trying to convince Zelena of Hades’ treachery, but who knows? Maybe this show will finally give Zelena a break.

→ Emma’s snark. Always and forever. I mean, her creeped-out “Okay…” when Cleo called her pretty had me doubled over. Also: “Let’s have that be the last time we do this today, okay?”

→ Henry being relevant. I think the show managed to find a pretty clever way to keep Henry important, and also to tie him to the Story Book.

What I Didn’t Like:

→ Cleo dying. I mean, was that really necessary? I get that her death makes Emma’s transformation into Good Citizen more meaningful, but I still think it could have happened with Cleo alive.  I also don’t understand why they had to run.  Aren’t bail bonds people law enforcement adjacent or something? They carry a license, right? Couldn’t Cleo have just told them she was chasing Emma? She seemed awfully scared they’d get shot, but I have a really difficult time believing that the cops in Nowhere, Maine are gonna shoot two petite white women on sight.  Speaking of white women, way to miss an opportunity to cast a woman of color.

→ Belle being sucked into a box. Look, I get it, Rumple has to get her out of the Underworld somehow, and it’s not like he’s about to carry her. Still, the sight of a Sleeping Belle (ha!) being sucked into a box and tucked into someone’s pocket left me with a bad taste in my mouth. This was exacerbated by the show previously giving us a decent taste of how awesome Belle can be when she’s fully in the know and functions as Rumple’s reluctant partner rather than his ignorant wife (I mean, remember her snarky “This isn’t murder, we’re opening a locker”?). I know she chose to put herself under a sleeping curse, but narratively speaking, is there any better way to place her into the position of non-acting agent? Also, what kind of logic was that on her part? She was, what, three months pregnant? Hades wouldn’t have been able to take her kid for at least another four months. She couldn’t have waited a bit? (This is why I blame the narrative, because Belle ain’t stupid.)

Overall, great episode, one I can see myself watching again. I look forward to our return to Storybrooke!