“Once Upon a Time” – The Crocodile episode review 2

Charming( Josh Dallas) and Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) search for Belle.

★★★☆☆

After last week I was dubious about going into this week’s episode “The Crocodile.” Initially I was excited, hoping that with the introduction of Captain Hook there would be a more adventurous turn for the series. I wondered if there would be a ticking clock, if there would actually be a crocodile, if Smee and his red hat would appear, if Captain Hook would be as dastardly as he was in the old Disney movie version. However, as the episode progressed I began to realize that I was not going to get my adventure. I realized there would be very little sword fights and pirate antics and not even one crocodile. If the showrunners want audiences to give up their time to watch yet another new character on a show full of them (while they could be catching up on their missed episodes of Homeland) they need to justify it. The worst thing that a show can do is have an audience member end the episode with a feeling of why? If I’m to watch a television series there needs to be payoff. The episode should end with an understanding, a revelation, a sweet and touching moment, anything that justifies why the viewers have sat through the episode. While there was a single moment in the last five minutes’ that made me say “cool” under my breath, it wasn’t enough. This show is about fairytales, adventure, romance and mystique, the last thing it should be is boring. It was.

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There are two main narratives in this episode, both of which involve Rumpelstiltskin. The first takes place in present day Storybrooke, the other in a flashback to Rumpelstiltskin and his wife Milah.

It begins with Belle catching Rumpelstiltskin practicing magic late at night which causes her to second guess her relationship and living arrangements. She confronts him about it and it quickly turns into the same conversation we’ve heard by the likes of him and Regina. Magic equals power, and that isn’t always a feeling that’s simple to cut ties with.

In flashback mode the writers have decided to explore Rumple’s past angst a little more, this time with his wife Milah, one of the prominent reasons that pushed him towards being the “Dark One.” Not only do his past grievances include an abandoned son and a lost love, but now it includes a wife who didn’t love him, too.

His wife Milah has taken to spending most of her time in pubs drinking, flirting, bemoaning the path her life has taken and her lack of adventure. When Rumple confronts her he’s portrayed as meek and tentative, trying to do the best for their boy. Milah on the other hand is brash and lashes out at him, calling him a coward. This, if you cannot tell, is the theme of the episode. It’s a theme so shoved in the audience’s collective face that it loses some of the impact. Instead of feeling sympathy, even pity for Rumple, I’m instead annoyed that we’re taking this path again with the character. The audience gets it. When Rumple was younger he was cowardly and afraid but once he got power it all changed and he traded empathy and mercy for magic.

It doesn’t get any better for him because the next day he realizes his wife is gone. He goes to a pirate ship where he’s been told she was taken and confronts the Captain of the crew. (You really only deserve one guess for who this is.) The Captain says he’ll give him back his wife, but they must fight to the death. Rumple, rejecting that idea and trying to use emotion to get her back, ends up forced to leave.

Jump to years later after he has transformed into the Dark One and after he’s been separated from his son, he meets the Captain again. This time, he’s a very different man. He inspires fear in the Captain rather than the other way around. Rumple challenges him to a fight.

Quick note: when insulting Rumple, the Captain called him a crocodile. Color me disappointed, I can’t believe that’s all I’m getting.

The two men fight with Rumple having the obvious upper hand. I wish the fight scene had gone on longer because choreography-wise it was one of the more interesting action sequences of the show’s history. However, it swiftly ends with Rumple’s sword at the Captains throat. He tells him he wants him to feel the heartbreak and agony that he experienced. With that said, he plunges his hand into the Captain’s chest to take his heart.

(Quick question, so now anyone with magic can perform the glowing heart of doom trick? I thought that was a Regina trademark only.)

Rumple is stopped mid-act by Milah, who is very much alive and well and now in love with the Captain. She tells him that if he lets him go, she will give him what he needs to get back to his son. It’s a magic bean that will take him wherever he needs to go.

They arrive on the ship and instead of it being a smooth transaction, Rumple attacks Milah asking her why she left, why she left her son. She tells him she never loved him and was miserable. Angry and hurt, Rumple takes her heart and kills her. When the Captain tries to attack him he cuts off his hand and disappears. Luckily for the Captain there is a hook lying conveniently next to him.

In Storybrooke, Belle and the writers are confused about her purpose in Storybrooke when not being Rumple’s lackey and she decides to go out and search for her identity. She decides that she would like to work at a library. As she’s checking it out, she’s kidnapped and brought to her father. However, rather than having an emotionally stirring family reunion, Belles father jumps right into ordering her away from Rumple. She lashes back saying she isn’t a child and can make her own decisions. Her father takes her decisions into his own hands and has her kidnapped again. Apparently, it’s for her own good.

In the search for her, Rumpelstiltskin goes to Charming, who I guess just decided he could be the sheriff now. He convinces Charming to help him by citing Snow and his love, letting Charming know that he’s searching for someone of importance that is his Snow. They head to Granny’s to search for her and run into Red who tells them that she can help. Ever since the curse has been broken some of her wolfish abilities have begun to come back. Her nose, her tracking abilities, bring them to Belle’s father’s shop. Rumple interrogates him and they find out that Belle has been sent to the town line’s underground so that no one will stop her. If she crosses the line all of her memories will be erased, including those of Rumple.

The Scooby gang of the week rush to her aid. This grouping is something I could get behind. I always love it when shows mix and match their group of characters; it’s where some of the more interesting moments derive from. The group reaches Belle just in time with Rumple using his magic to grab her before she crosses the line.

Despite saving her, she hasn’t forgiven him. She tells both him and her father that she’s angry with them for treating her like a child and lying to her. She walks away angry.

A moment that is completely and totally ignored about three minutes later.

Rumple has sent Belle a key to the library and meets her there. He tells her that there is a loft for the shop owner and that she should live there now. He tells her that he is not there to win her back but to apologize and explain. He admits to being a coward but it’s not something he can shake so suddenly. She’s apparently wooed by this and tells him that maybe they can grab dinner sometime.

I’ve always thought of Rumpelstiltskin as being one of the better written characters on the show. He’s either pure evil, wrongfully judged, or is in some way seeking redemption. There are multiple layers and complexities for a character on a show that typically stays on one level of storytelling. However, despite him being a well written character, I’ve always had difficulty getting behind the pairing of him and Belle. On paper, it seems like a decent idea and a way to liven up old stories. Yet it fell flat with Belle being a one note character, their romance only explored minimally, and essentially used as a plot point for Rumpelstiltskin rather than an actual interesting, romantic development.

Luckily, this episode worked its way into solidifying if not why Rumpelstiltskin and Belle are together, but at least worked on proving their chemistry.

If nothing else this episode was a showcase of Robert Carlyle’s talents. This week’s episode required him to perform as three different versions of his character. All three were nuanced and completely separate from the other. His younger version of Rumple was naïve and emotionally vulnerable, while his latter version who had turned dark seemed to barely hang onto sanity. His Mr. Gold version of Rumple is emotionally restrained and buttoned up, silently powerful.  If any other actor on the show were to play this part the silliness may have overridden the interest, but luckily Carlyle doesn’t play the character as a joke and puts the same amount of effort into each version.

It wasn’t a bad episode, but it was a boring one. The problem being that we’ve seen this character exposition before. With Regina we’ve seen her progress from clear baddie to a woman who was damaged so badly that she believed power was the only way to earn love. With Rumpelstiltskin we’ve seen the writers tell the same story, but rather than expand on it like they’re doing with Regina and her relationship with Henry and Cora, we’re simply replaying the same story over and over again. Something bad happens to him, he grows more evil. Repeat. It has come to the point where I am constantly looking for the ‘but’ at the end of the sentence. Maybe he has learned his lesson of the week and maybe he does want to get better, but undoubtedly by the end of the episode he will have yet another devious trick up his sleeve. Character exposition is good, but they need to make sure it’s something we haven’t already seen.

The main problem this episode had is its main problem most of the time; they have yet again failed to embrace its full potential.

Additional Thoughts:

“Where are we going?” “Neverland.” See that’s the type of moment I was talking about above.

 I really, really love Red and I hope she’s in more scenes every episode.

 Only one scene with Henry and he only had like one line. Instantly an okay episode.

 No Regina again? She’s sorely missed in episodes.

 Dr. Frankenstein in next week’s episode. Who else is curious?