“Once Upon a Time” – The Queen is Dead episode review 0

Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Charming (Josh Dallas) learn a harsh lesson from Cora.

Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Charming (Josh Dallas) learn a harsh lesson from Cora.

★★★★☆

I’m not one to sing this show praises, but you can’t deny the entertainment value when what the showrunners are going for actually manages to play out. When this show decides that it would be beneficial to dedicate its runtime to plot points that will manage to further character development, increase the stakes, and conclude in a climactic moment—rather than simply being an hour of pure filler—it’s an entirely different monster. The caliber of writing didn’t miraculously go up, they’re a big fan of telling not showing, and the acting didn’t miraculously improve—poor little Snow having to overact to try and compensate for Jared Gilmore’s abysmal child acting—but what it had in its favor was entertainment value; which is something that has been greatly missing in season two. All that this show needs to do to keep its audience is to deliver the magical, storytelling aspect that it had in season one, and keep it moving. When the plot surges forward there’s more interest almost instantaneously.

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It’s a Snow-heavy episode, which could go in one or two directions: the direction of early season one where Snow was consistently an interesting and layered character to watch and Ginnifer Goodwin acted her butt off in making sure she was the best Snow White adaptation of the year, or the route of season two where she and Charming have been nothing but side remarks and gooey love eyes.

Thankfully, it was the former. Snow, while lately an at times grating character, has also managed to be the character that most effectively evokes the fairytale atmosphere of the show—as she did tonight.

It begins in flashback to a younger Snow – played again by Bailee Madison who despite her likeness to Goodwin was painful to watch in this episode with the scene chewing—who has yet to learn the lesson of what makes her pure of heart. Her mother catches her talking down to a servant, Johanna, after she’s been touching her birthday tiara. Her mother reprimands her and tells her that no matter rich or poor they’re all the same and all of the same worth. Snow is to treat every being in their Kingdom with the same amount of respect and courtesy.

And thus the Snow we all know was born by the expository dialogue and heavy-handed life lessons.

After giving this heartfelt speech, Snow’s mother crumples in pain, and is immediately brought to a doctor where they’re told she’s very ill.

In present-day Storybrooke, Snow is contemplative and Charming is trying to treat her for her birthday but she’s having none of it considering the memories connected to the day. She receives a mystery package for her birthday and after she’s convinced it’s not from Charming, she opens it to find the tiara she had many years ago in the fairytale world. She reads the letter and sees that it’s, conveniently, from Johanna her old hand maid. They’re surprised she ended up here as well but of course she pops up now, when the story sees it fit to use her for emotional plot points.

Snow sneaks away to meet up with her and they have an emotional reunion that doesn’t quite manage to emit the emotions they were hoping for, considering the audience literally only just met this character minutes ago.

Snow sees some suspicious movement out in the woods, even though it’s the middle of the day, and goes to investigate and finds Cora and Regina dabbling in evil. They’re attempting to find Rumpelstiltskin’s dagger which will either allow them control of the Dark One or allow them to be given his powers. Either way it’s bad all around. Snow realizes this and rushes to put a stop to it.

Too bad Charming is consistently useless. He’s been knocked out by Hook who wanted his hook back and Snow finds him and wakes him. She tells him what’s been going on and he says they’ll just have to find the dagger before the other two do, but Snow wants to try and reason with Regina first. Regina has always been distrustful of her mother’s intentions and if Snow can cast even a shadow of a doubt of her motives, maybe it will be enough to sway Regina to the side of the good.

It doesn’t go so well.

Regina asks her how she’s so certain that Cora is wronging her. She tells Snow that she tried to be nice, she tried being on the side of the light and make nice with the townsfolk but knew that they would never accept her as a changed person. Nice doesn’t get her anything, only power does.

And let’s just take a moment to discuss the absolute character assassination they’re putting Regina through. Does Regina forget that her mother killed the only man she ever loved? That she’s been hugely manipulative in the past? That much of her current pain and past misdeeds were wrought from her mother’s poor parenting skills? Is the show even going to acknowledge the progress the character had made in obtaining good will or are they going to throw it all away just so they can have their caricature within reach? Lana Parrilla is wonderful when she’s allowed to be soft and vulnerable but as the Evil Queen she’s all tilted heads and tired smirks that offer zero substance or subtlety. If the show hadn’t made the switch from good to evil so quickly, had maybe allowed for her to swim in the gray area for a while, it all would have worked better.

In New York City, it’s family bonding time with Neal and Henry enjoying each other and Emma and Rumple sitting back from their dejected children. While I could give or take the father and son bonding time due to Gilmore’s acting, I could have used more of Emma and Rumple’s scenes. Robert Carlyle is doing his best to pull a good, emotive performance out of Jennifer Morrison and is for the most part succeeding. Rumple tells Emma to convince Neal to come back with them, noting her lingering emotions for him as reasoning. It’s a small but nuanced moment for a character who we very rarely categorize as sweet and sentimental. These are two characters who when paired together, bring out more interesting storylines.

Everything is thrown to hell when they get back to Neal’s apartment and Hook appears out of nowhere and stabs Rumple in the heart with a poisoned hook. Emma proves again that Hook is just about the most pitiful pirate ever and knocks him out with one blow. They get Rumple upstairs, with Neal now deeply concerned for his father, and they devise a plan to get him back to Storybrooke where his magic will allow him to heal himself. Before that they get the troubling text from Snow about the dagger, and how in order to survive Rumple will need to trust his newfound family and divulge where he’s hidden it. Neal then tells them that he can sail Hook’s ship to get them home—alluding to some past time spent in Neverland.

Who is now guessing that he’s either Peter Pan or one of the Lost Boys? That would be interesting.

Snow and Charming find the dagger and are about to escape with it when all of a sudden Cora and Regina are there to stop them. Knowing that Snow has always been too good to sacrifice another’s life, Cora conjures Johanna to the clock tower where they stand and Regina performs some purple, glowing heart voodoo and begins to squeeze the life out of her. Snow has to choose between watching someone die in front of her, her only tie to her mother, or allow the possible destruction of many.

This isn’t the first time she’s been faced with such a decision. She was given a spell by the Blue Fairy when she was a child to save her mother, but in return another life would have to be taken. She chooses not to sacrifice another innocent’s life and loses her mother in the process.

Now with Johanna in front of her she makes the same decision. She also learns that it was never the Blue Fairy when she was a child, but Cora in disguise. Cora poisoned her mother, planned Regina and Snow’s run in so that Snow’s father would want to marry Regina, all as a plan to get Regina on the throne.

Or so she says.

As a parting gift, Cora tells Snow that good will never get her anywhere and after giving up the dagger to save her, throws Johanna out the window and to her death.

Pretty dire and macabre for a show that has Jiminy Cricket as a character.

It’s a harsh wake up call for Snow who realizes just how many people they’ve lost while trying to be good and unwilling to harm another without due reason. She tells Charming that she’s sick and tired of standing over graves and tells him that her plan now is to kill Cora and rid them of her evil.

Personally, I’d love to see this version of Snow play out but also know that it will only last about an episode until someone, Henry, Emma or Charming, talks her back into being her old self.

The episode ends with Emma learning unceremoniously that Neal is actually engaged to be married. It’s unnecessary since there is enough drama going on currently, but it will certainly add tension for the ride back to Storybrooke.

Next week promises death, action and a whole lot of moving plot so maybe this will now be a trend for the show.

This week’s episode was good, not great, because of the value of entertainment. The episode was fun, kept my interest and didn’t toe the line of absurdity too much to make my laughter be at the show’s expense. This is the show that’s good for escapism.