Consider this: I’m getting a late start to this review and even now, only so far after the airing of the episode, I’m hard tasked to mention anything remarkable about the episode. Maybe it was the constant refreshing of my Twitter feed for updates at Sundance, or it being a Sunday night before a day off, but nothing about the episode held any sort of appeal. It wasn’t the worst episode the show has done by a long shot, but it was boring. And in a show such as this, one that should have enough spectacle and pizazz to distract from often times shoddy and lazily constructed storylines, which outcome is worst? Has it failed more when it’s left a viewer embarrassed, or dissatisfied?
In this case it’s once again the case of the constantly growing character list that is the detriment. And yes, they may have even added one more.
The focus this week is Rumpelstiltskin and Belle, Emma and the Charmings and surprisingly, in a deviation from the norm, Red and Dr. Whale. Sometimes a little bit of a change to the routine of the show’s narratives can create moments of enjoyment and well-done storytelling. That’s the problem with the episode. It proved Once Upon a Time’s reluctance to grow as a show and learn how to incorporate new ideas rather than new characters and places.
The episode begins where we left off, at town lines, Belle is understandably freaking out as Rumple leans over her using magic, something she now doesn’t even knows exists, as Emma and her parents rush in and find an injured Hook and the man in the passenger seat with some injuries himself. On top of that they realize that he is from Pennsylvania, meaning that people can in fact just drive in Storybrooke despite its enchantments. Which poses the interesting question, now that the ruse has been dropped and the townsfolk have begun to act freely once again, how do they fake normalcy now that they’re forced into confines with an outsider? Because as is pointed out to them, in the media (movies and such) magical discovery always tends to end with dissections, experimentation and total dismay. Even so, they bring him to the hospital where Dr. Whale has to be called multiple times before showing up. Upon arrival, Whale is at first hesitant to aid the visiting man, as the townsfolk fear his imminent awakening and the repercussions that may follow. Whale reassures Rumple that Belle is fine, and will be fine and that he should leave for now and give her some space.
The two it seems have a history together. It’s Dr. Whale/Dr. Frankenstein’s flashback for the week and the execution and delivery is questionable in quality to say the least. The idea is interesting, the entirety of the scenes and characters in black and white except for Rumple who is a visiting participant. When you think of the Frankenstein novel and even classic films of the same character you think of a gothic atmosphere, of stormy weather and dialogue spoken in a poetic prose. It’s moody and macabre and full of analytical scientific discussion rather that the flippancy of a waved wand that can cure any ailment. However, it doesn’t fit very well into the premise of the show and despite the show’s attempt to mention that themselves (Henry says that Dr. Whale never shows up in that old book of his) it still doesn’t remedy the disconcerting feeling. Neverland, Wonderland, either of those would’ve worked seamlessly with the show’s overall appearance, allowing for different locations without simultaneously changing the tone of the show. Dr. Whale is one of the more interesting character on the show—you’ve got to love your ambiguously “good” characters—but his flashbacks take away a great amount of the appeal.
We’ve gone back in time with him to see his very first creation, his brother. His brother was his father’s everything and when he is killed he does everything to bring him back to life which includes striking up a bargain with Rumple. Rumple, who I might add, is somehow able to jump into every realm imaginable, threaten every character, and is still looked at with more sympathy than Regina. (But more on her later.)
He succeeds but like every other telling, not with one hundred percent efficiency and is declared by their father to be a monster, a travesty. Alone, the two brothers wonder what to do until the brother forces Frankenstein to point a gun at his head, and asks him to pull the trigger and put him out of misery. Frankenstein is unable to do so and runs away promising that he can fix it.
And back in Storybrooke Dr. Whale has once again run away from the problems, unwilling to operate on the mysterious, out-of-town man.
The other characters are operating in their own fashion, trying to work out what happened and what happens from here on out. Emma goes to Hook to talk to him about the accident and what’s transpired between him and Rumple. Hook tries to gloat about Rumple’s loss of Belle, but as Emma interrogates him about Cora’s whereabouts she tells him that to her, it’s he who’s looking like the dead man walking. He’s chained to a bed, injured and without his hook and has taken the one thing that had a chance of humanizing Rumple, leaving in its place a rage that is barely being stifled.
This leads to Rumple leaning over a sleeping Belle. Yes, just as creepy and unwarranted as imagined, especially when he leans down to kiss the sleeping woman who has zero memory of him or their relationship and is dealing with the trauma of not knowing who or where she is. I don’t know if it was his plan to awaken her with true love’s kiss or what not but it was not a scene that warmed my heart towards the character, nor was the following one with Chip the cup. Yeah, that Chip. He’s trying to manipulate her mind into remembering and instead it angers her and she breaks the cup. Sadness ensues.
The character that does in fact gain even more of my sympathy is Regina, once again played wonderfully by Lana Parrilla who continues to showcase vulnerability unexpected with such a character. Cora has found her and twists her mind into thinking that the town was always going to blame her for Archie’s death because they don’t believe her capable of change. Her walls weakened, she is easily pliable and Cora recruits her to her side, even though Regina believes that she is the winner in this case. Cora tells her that she can help her get Henry back and with that Regina is hooked, pulled in by her weakness.
To round out the episode is Red finding Dr. Whale hanging from a ledge, ready to jump even if the reasons aren’t too clear. Red saves him before he takes the plunge and the two share a heart to heart, one “monster” to another. The werewolf and the crazy Doctor. Meghan Ory and David Anders have a surprising chemistry that makes the scene all the more believable, despite the absurdity about it. Reinvigorated, Dr. Whale heads back to the hospital, Red in tow, to help saves the mysterious man’s life. And look, he’s gotten some sort of happy ending this round.
The problem with these storylines weren’t the execution by the actors, but the general lack of interest that they inspired. After last week, I was sick of Belle and I still am and Emile de Ravin still isn’t a good actress, even when all she has to do is sit on a bed and look scared. Dr. Whale is interesting but his flashbacks rely too heavily on the cheese factor and destroy any atmospheric feeling in the process. Hook and Emma share an interesting dynamic but their scenes together were too short and didn’t allow enough exposition to play between the two of them, only managing to reinforce Emma’s competency in her job that the show often times forgets. Regina is once a thrill to watch since she continues to be the most skillfully written, but her plot is soured once the audience watching realizes that the showrunners are throwing her through yet another ringer, making her once again the true baddie of the show as Rumple once again manages to escape with nothing more than the damaged goods villain, the villain with the heart of gold, despite his multitude of crimes.
He is what makes the next episode in three weeks look appealing. At the end of the episode he calls on the favor Emma owes him and tells her to pack her bags, they’re going on a road trip.
I didn’t know how much I wanted this until it was spoken. This is an interesting duo of characters who share an interesting give-and-take dynamic, neither one having the true upper hand like Rumple so often has with every other person he encounters. Let’s see if Robert Carlyle and Jennifer Morrison share a rapport that will help carry the upcoming storyline.
So, was it a bad episode? No, but it was entirely unforgettable and that isn’t a good thing.
The show returns in three weeks.